The Weekend Leader - At Indira Gandhi's funeral: Arafat & Kaunda wept

At Indira Gandhi's funeral: Arafat & Kaunda wept

BY VIVEK SHUKLA   |  New Delhi


Eminent vedic scholar Dr. Goswami Girdhari Lal was almost in tears when he was asked by personal secretary and confidante to late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, R.K. Dhawan, to guide Rajiv Gandhi to perform the assassinated leader's last rites held on Saturday, November 3, 1984.

Although the Head of the Birla Mandir, Lal, had also handled the funeral of her father and first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, it was an emotional moment.

Once he told yours truly at his East Patel Nagar residence that he was trembling while guiding Rajiv Gandhi to perform those rituals at Shakti Sthal as she was very good to him.

"Palestinian Liberation Army leader Yaseer Arafat was weeping like a child. He used to call Mrs. Gandhi his sister. President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia was also in tears," he recalled.

While he was guiding Rajiv Gandhi, Lal's journalist son, Rama Kant was there at the press area to cover the event for his newspaper. Later, he became minister in Shiela Dikshit government.

Royalties, revolutionaries, Presidents and Prime Ministers were there to pay their last tribute. But, the shocking absence of Fidel Castro of Cuba from the funeral was considered a big blow by the South block mandarins.

He was seen as a friend of India after his ‘beer-hug' of Mrs. Indira Gandhi at the Non-Aligned summit in New Delhi in 1983.

In Connaught Place, George Chiu, owner of prestigious D. Minsen and Company, was mourning the gory killing of his celebrated client and remembered those moments when he used to visit her at 1, Safdarjung Road residence to show her sandals and bellies.

"I had visited her place when she was the prime minister and also when she was out of power. Both my father and I used to make her sandals and bellies for several years. I will never forget her," concludes George Chiu, whose shop was established almost 80 years ago by his father. He still misses her dearly.

Meanwhile, the US delegation came without President Ronald Reagan or vice president George Bush. It was a small party led by Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

In his book ‘Mother India', noted writer Pranay Gupta said: "Former US envoy to India John Kenneth Galbraith, who was present at the funeral, privately said to friends how disappointed he was that neither Mr. Reagan nor Mr. Bush came to Delhi."

Two other former US envoys to India came to the funeral, John Sherman Cooper and Senator Daniel Patrick Moyniham. Even they were reportedly unhappy that both president and vice president skipped an important funeral of top third world leader.

At the funeral site, strutting in sherwani ruthless dictator and Pakistan President Zia-Ul-Haq was present. He also visited Teen Murti Bhawan where the mortal remains of Indira Gandhi were placed. Zia attracted a lot of attention.

Those were the dark days of Khalistan movement and it was alleged that Pakistan under the instructions of General Zia was funding the movement in a big way. What an irony that Zia was also victim of a bomb that blew up his airplane in 1988.

Delhi was not new to him as his alma mater was here. Zia was sitting close to King of Bhutan, Kenneth Kaunda and Prime Minister of Britain Margaret Thatcher. At Teen Murti house, while talking to media, Mrs Thatcher roundly condemned all those who celebrated her death in the UK.

The Bollywood contingent was led by Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Sunil Dutt. Zubin Mehta was also there.

Mrs Vijaya Laxmi Pandit, the estranged aunt of Mrs Gandhi, B.K. Nehru, the former Indian envoy in US, Menaka Gandhi and her son, Varun, were also in inner gathering.

Mrs Pandit and Mrs Gandhi were not even talking terms since long. She was very critical of Mrs Gandhi's decision to impose the Emergency (1975-77).

Her mortal remains were carried up to the Shakti Sthal by Rajiv Gandhi and others, including Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. Rajiv Gandhi's son, Rahul clad in a kurta and white pajamas, had, like his father, a long white towel around his neck.

And finally when Rajiv Gandhi lit the pyre of her mother, yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmchari, long forgotten in the era of Baba Ramdev, and N.T. Rama Rao, the fiery actor-turned-neta from Andhra Pradesh suddenly joined Lal in guiding Rajiv Gandhi to perform those tough duties. IANS 

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