I am in my 50s and old enough to remember the deaths of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
In 1984 the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot and killed by two of her own security guards who happened to be Sikhs. This assassination was in retaliation for the desecration of the Golden Temple in Amritsar during that time. The Khalistan movement of the Sikhs for separation from India was raging at that time and Mrs. Gandhi was prepared to go to any lengths to safeguard the unity and integrity of the country.
Following the assassination there were anti Sikh riots in Delhi and surrounding areas. Lack of judicial action against the rioters set a precedent for the anti Muslim riots in Maharashtra and Gujarat in the 1990s and 2000s.
What I find noteworthy was that the Sikh security guards who committed the murder had been removed from their detail as their superiors considered them a security risk. Mrs. Gandhi however noticed that these two Sikh security guards were no longer part of her security detail. She insisted that these two guards be brought back to uphold the secular principle (as she termed it). This was done and later she was shot and killed.
The question arises – did Mrs. Gandhi want to die? Perhaps to expiate for her act of offending the Sikhs? Did she think that her death would serve the cause of the unity and integrity of the country? We will never know but the question can be raised.
Following the assassination her son, Rajiv Gandhi, became Prime Minister following an overwhelming victory in the general election which soon following Mrs. Gandhi’s death.
A few years later, in 1991, Rajiv Gandhi too was assassinated by an LTTE suicide squad. This occurrence also just preceded a general election. In this case also Rajiv Gandhi’s security staff could have prevented the tragedy as they wanted to prevent the (unidentified) LTTE personnel from approaching Mr. Gandhi but he said, “Let them come.”
The country at the time of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was in a desperate state financially. India was forced to seek the help of the IMF and the whole process of liberalization of the economy needed to be kick started. Mr. Narsimha Rao, who became Prime Minister following the general election, was able to do the needful even without a majority in Parliament.
In my opinion had Mr. Rajiv Gandhi become Prime Minister it would have lead to disaster for the country as he would have been completely incapable of doing what Mr. Narsimha Rao did. And again, the question arises – why did Rajiv Gandhi act against the wishes of his own security staff? Did he also want to die for the sake of the country?
These are the questions which arise. The events described above indicate that whatever their flaws the Gandhi family is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the nation. They do not – I should think – have a death wish. It is possible that both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi felt that the country would be better off without them. So they proceeded to remove themselves from the scene in the only honourable way they knew.
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