New Delhi: There were three assassination attempts on Sanjay Gandhi, a key figure during the Emergency, including one where a high powered rifle was used when the leader was visiting Uttar Pradesh, a US cable outed by WikiLeaks has claimed.
In a September 1976 dispatch, the US embassy reported the then prime minister Indira Gandhi's younger son was targeted by an unknown assailant in a "well planned assassination attempt" which failed. The date suggests the incident occurred during the Emergency.
"Indira Gandhi's son Sanjay was shot three times on August 30 or 31 by an unknown assailant," the cable says, attributing the information to a clandestine source. The report says Sanjay escaped and was not critically injured.
If Sanjay did suffer injuries, their nature is not specified but interestingly the cable bases its information on information provided by Indian intelligence sources.
"According to Indian intelligence, this is the third attempt on the younger Gandhi's life," the cable states and goes on to surmise that the attack will eventually be blamed on revolutionary elements sponsored by outside powers.
As is now evident, no word was let out on the UP incident or any of the other alleged assassination attempts. It is now unclear whether the intelligence sources quoted in the capable were impeccable, but Sanjay's authoritarian image did earn him powerful enemies.
Opposition to Emergency and the Gandhi family came from conventional political sources as well as radical elements of both right and left wing persuasion.
Other US cables have noted that Sanjay and Indira's private secretary R K Dhawan were "non-ideological" authoritarian figures behind the Emergency who worked to ensure the PM's power remained unchallenged.
A telegraphic summary provided by US intelligence to the state department on September 6, 1976 says of the UP incident, "The information concerning the incident is under tight control at present, but the attack will eventually be blamed on revolutionary elements sponsored by outside powers."
The excesses of the Emergency led to Congress suffering a decisive defeat in the 1977 election that were held after Indira Gandhi lifted the curbs on fundamental rights. Janata Party swept to power but in all investigations that followed, there was no mention of any attempts to kill Sanjay.
Sanjay was killed in a plane crash in the Capital on June 23, 1980 soon after Congress came back to power after internal bickering consumed the Janata Party. He was 33 and a rising star in the Congress clearly seen as successor to his mother. His early death brought his elder brother Rajiv into politics who till then was a commercial pilot with Indian Airlines.
Rajiv eventually became prime minister after the assassination of his mother and then prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.
(Courtesy: Times of India)