Indian Yearender Analysis





Intro: Nineteen eighty-four marked the most turbulent year of political trauma and communal violence in India since independence in nineteen forty-seven. Prime Minister Gandhi contended with a crisis atmosphere right up until her assassination by two Sikh bodyguards in late October. VOA Correspondent Don Weaver reports from New Delhi on the political year.

Text: Prime Minister Gandhi's government was constantly on the defensive, partly due to growing political regionalism in this wildly diversified country. Regional parties with growing influence emerged against the ruling Congress-Indira party, like the Telegu Desam in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The party had routed the Congress for the first time in state assembly elections the previous year.

Another opposition force was the Sikh Akali Party, which headed the Sikh struggle in Punjab, demanding more state autonomy. Mrs. Gandhi held out for a strong center.

The result was friction and tension between her government and ruling opposition administrations in state capitals. Opposition leaders accused Missus Gandhi of removing her political rivals by toppling state governments, which she denied. But opposing governments fell in Sikkim, Indian Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh, with the Congress usually making gains.

The Congress, it turned out, suffered a setback in Andhra Pradesh. The state governor dismissed Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao when his Telegu Desam Party split, and the former film star purportedly lost his majority in the assembly. The Congress Party quickly came to the support of the maverick faction. But the governor resigned and the Congress backed off in embarrassment when Ram Rao's majority held up and he returned triumphantly to office.
On the explosive issue of Punjab, opposition parties and the press accused Missus Gandhi of dawdling in dealing with Akali leaders. The Akalis, after nearly two years of struggle, urged larger numbers of Sikhs to agitate for autonomy demands. Sikh extremists holed up in the Golden Temple at Amritsar became more radical. Sikh terrorists took the lives of many Hindus and moderate Sikhs in assassinations planned--and sometimes carried out--in the sacred Golden Temple complex.

In early June, Missus Gandhi appealed for amity between Sikhs and Hindus.

Tape Gandhi actuality

Let us join together to heal wounds. The best memorial to those who have lost their lives is to restore normalcy and harmony in the Punjab, which they loved and served. To all sections I appeal: Don't shed blood, shed hatred.
End tape

But Missus Gandhi ordered the Army into the Golden Temple to crush the terrorists. She later called it the most difficult decision of her political career.

The controversial decision cost heavily in lives and alienated many in the Sikh community. Thousands of Sikh soldiers mutinied. Autonomy negotiations came to a halt. Akali leaders were still in detention at the end of the year.
Four months after the Army assault at Amritsar, Missus Gandhi paid for the decision to use the military with her life. The sixty-six-year-old Prime Minister was assassinated on the grounds of her New Delhi residence by two Sikh bodyguards. One was killed by other security men. The other is still being interrogated to establish whether there was a conspiracy.

In Hindu backlash against the slaying of Missus Gandhi, mobs attacked Sikh families. There was a wave of killing, arson and looting unprecedented in modern India. Officially six hundred fifty people died in New Delhi and more elsewhere before the Army, using tanks, put the rioters down. (editors note: Later reports put the number of dead, mostly Sikhs, in the thousands, including more than three thousand in the capital alone)

Missus Gandhi's son, forty-year-old Rajiv, was sworn in as prime minister within hours of his mothers slaying. He addressed the nation, calling for balance, calm and maximum restraint.

Tape Gandhi Actuality

Nothing would hurt the soul of our beloved India more than the occurrence of violence in any part of our country. Indira Gandhi is no more. But her soul lives. India lives. India is immortal.
End tape

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, a former Indian Airlines pilot, also became head of the ruling Congress Party with only three years of political experience behind him. Soon afterwards he decided to call a national Parliamentary election for the end of December.

The people in democratic India returned the Congress to power with an impressive mandate. Gandhi rode to victory partly on the sympathy wave generated by his mother's assassination.

Observers said he was helped by his name and a personal image as a clean-cut, decisive younger politician with poise and maturity.

But experts say political opposition was weak and ineffective. The opposing parties were badly hurt by their inability to unite against the Congress Party, which has governed since independence, except for about two years.