Monday, October 31, 2011

Who Killed Mrs. Gandhi?

It is amazing how unexamined Indira Gandhi’s death remains 27 years after her assassination. Almost everything I have read on the matter skips critically important detail; in fact, the accounts are so unvarying in the details they do provide the authors could well have been working from a shared template. To help the generation now coming of age to understand what happened, I present a non-template version below.

In June 1984, the Indian Army ousted a band of heavily armed terrorists occupying the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar. The operation damaged the holiest of Sikh shrines, deeply offending the community and setting in motion a decade of troubles in the Punjab, bringing to its knees India’s most prosperous state.

With support supposedly from the Sikh communities in Britain, Canada and the United States a terrorist movement emerged almost immediately after the assault on the Golden temple. Pakistan’s ISI was also rumoured to be helping the terrorists. The most vociferous centre of external support was in London, where a Sikh activist called for the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi on a BBC broadcast. India lodged a formal diplomatic protest but the British government said it could not interfere with the freedom of the Press.

 On 31 October the same year, two Sikh members of the Prime Minister’s security detail assassinated her. They were standing guard at a gate she had to pass through to get to a BBC television crew set up for an interview. The occasion for the interview was the visit to Delhi of Princess Anne, with whom the Prime Minister was to dine that evening. The interview was delayed a half-hour at the last minute, just the time needed for one of the two assassins to begin his shift at the spot where the killing occurred. Initially, suspicion fell on one of Mrs. Gandhi's aides for making the change, but the official inquiry exonerated him. The investigating judge noted the involvement of a foreign intelligence agency without explaining what that meant. As a part of the report remains secret we cannot say definitely if there was mention of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). For what it is worth, the BBC interviewer waiting for Mrs. G on that fatal day was the actor Peter Ustinov who was not entirely unconnected with British Intelligence; at the minimum, he had a family connection: his father was a British spy.

 When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in Delhi for Mrs. Gandhi’s funeral, Indian reporters asked her about Britain’s earlier refusal to take action against the man who had openly called for the assassination. She responded: “Whether or not what he [the Sikh on the BBC] said actually amounted to a possible crime was a matter for the director of public prosecutions and the police, not for a politician. But I believe they looked at it, looked very carefully at what was said, and came to the conclusion that they could not in fact prosecute. You know there are sometimes very difficult cases. But whether they decide to prosecute or not is a matter for them. But they did not and that must have been because there was in their view not a sufficient case to prosecute.”

A reporter asked if there was not a case “for tightening up or altering the law” on “incitement to violence.” She replied, “Incitement to violence – I think the law is fairly clear. Sometimes it is not easy to get the precise evidence but we will have a look at it if need be. … But we must recognize again what is an apparent paradox, that if you are a free country then you are free to say what you think within the law, but a free society offers many more opportunities for doing the wrong thing than of course a tyranny. But then of course, who would wish to live under tyranny? And there are occasions when you do have a difficult question to ask. Do you resort to the methods of a tyrannical society in order to preserve freedom? You can see the paradox. Now I believe that we have got just about the right answer in Britain. But we are very well aware of the difficulties of violence and of the difficulties of getting evidence sufficient to enable our police and those who are responsible for indicting these people to bring cases to court.”

For the record, the BBC has never been an exercise in independent journalism; it was, from its founding, an organ of State propaganda and the World Service continues to be funded from the Foreign Office budget. Some prominent BBC "journalists" are clearly spies; see

A month after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination and anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, a set of multiple safety-system failures at Union Carbide’s chemical plant at Bhopal caused the “world’s worst industrial accident.” There was every indication that it was sabotage, but the new Rajiv Gandhi government sagely decided not to publicize that angle for fingers could have pointed to a Sikh employee; clearly, whoever sabotaged the plant wanted to set off another assault on the community.

A few months later, in June 1985, another atrocity was blamed on “Sikh terrorists,” the blowing up of Air India Flight 182 over British waters as it made its way from Montreal to Delhi. All 329 people on board died. Canadian prosecutors are still trying to prove the heavily circumstantial case.

In the light of these facts, it would be well to keep in mind that although Mrs. Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards shot her, those who plotted and arranged for her death were most probably British. To understand why the British would want her dead we have to look at Britain's role as the Cold War "manager" of South Asia -- and that must be a story for another day.

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