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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.