Home / Opinion / Columns /  Three key lessons to be kept in mind for all times

Today is the last day of October and the 38th anniversary of the passing of the nation’s third prime minister, Indira Gandhi. Such a tragedy imparts a lesson, in addition to leaving behind a gaping wound. What are the key takeaways from the assassination?

One needs to go back 38 years to get the answer. At Indira’s official residence, she was killed by members of her own security team. Following Operation Blue Star, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) received information that ISI brass was plotting Indira’s assassination. Fortifying the prime minister’s residence and office required the deployment of both the army and Delhi Police personnel. Officials from intelligence agencies would also take part in regular review of the prime minister’s security plan.

RAW received intelligence then that Inspector Beant Singh of the Delhi Police, who was assigned to the inner circle of protection, had recently been amritdhari (baptised to Sikhism) and was meeting suspicious people. On this premise, he was sent to the Delhi Police’s armed unit. Indira was known to have admired him and referred to him as “Sardar ji". He returned within a few days as a result of her intervention. On the fateful morning of 31 October 1984, he was the first to open fire on Indira. Kehar and Satwant Singh joined him. After a while, Beant was shot under “mysterious" circumstances, on the spot. He had led the plot to kill Indira and might have revealed a lot of information.

When Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister later on, a separate privileged agency for the security of the prime minister and family—the Special Protection Group (SPG)—was established, taking lessons from Indira’s assassination. The SPG is still in charge of the prime minister’s security. It is gratifying that since the creation of this agency, barring some exceptions, no assailant has been able to get within a few feet of an Indian prime minister.

This was the first lesson that could be drawn from the circumstance. Although the VVIPs were shielded from attack, their distance from the common people grew. Having security in the nation is now seen as a sign of prestige. This is not good for democracy.

Now let’s discuss the second lesson.

People across the nation became upset as soon as news of the attack on Indira got out. No other politician compared to her in terms of political and social status. Her son Rajiv had entered politics just five years prior. Although he was well-liked and dynamic, no one was willing to believe that he could succeed Indira.

Not long ago, in the general election of 1980, the Congress had won 353 seats and a resounding victory. The party then had veterans such as Pranab Mukherjee, Narasimha Rao and Narayan Datt Tiwari. In the opinion of the general public, none of them was equal to Indira. Under the circumstances, the news of Rajiv’s ascension raised the question of how he would fill his mother’s shoes.

Rajiv, and all the prime ministers who followed him, did many good and bad things, but they never let the candle of democracy burn out, even when neighbouring nations were still in upheaval. Today, Delhi is ruled by Narendra Modi. He is frequently compared to Indira in terms of his grip on the party, the government, and the people of the country. Modi, too, had faced problems during the Emergency imposed by the Indira regime. He has been the country’s prime minister for two terms. This demonstrates that whenever India detects a void, ardent Indians rush to fill it.

Let’s now move to the third lesson. Indira was killed while combating India’s divisive elements. At the time, Punjab was on fire, and sparks flashed in Kashmir from time to time. Sparks of separation also smouldered in the North-east. Today, Punjab is one of the country’s most peaceful and richest states. The upheaval in the North-east is a thing of the past. Despite difficulties, Kashmir remains India’s crown jewel.

The Modi government not only repealed the contentious Article 370 three years ago, but also divided the state into two Union territories for better administration. Whatever concerns sceptics may have had at that time, the truth is that the influx of tourists in Jammu and Kashmir is breaking records.

What could be a better demonstration of India’s unity, integrity, and determination to march forward indefinitely?

There have been many more accomplishments in the last 38 years that we may be proud of, but these three lessons drive us to change with the times while remaining vigilant. We must keep these lessons in mind at all times.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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