Gandhi assassination anniv marked

NEW DELHI: India paid tribute to former prime minister Indira Gandhi on Saturday, the 25th anniversary of her assassination, with politicians and ordinary citizens marking the occasion.

Premier Manmohan Singh and Gandhi's daughter-in-law Sonia, leader of the ruling Congress party, who cradled Indira in her arms as she was dying, were among those who paid their respects at memorial sites around New Delhi.

Sonia Gandhi's son Rahul, a key force in the Congress party and seen as a potential prime minister, solemnly sprinkled flower petals on a monument dedicated to his grandmother, where multi-faith prayers also took place.

Visitors queued up to visit Indira Gandhi's sprawling white bungalow residence, which was turned into a museum after the leader, known as India's "Iron Lady," was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

"In our country there is no one like her," one man told the CNN-IBN network.

"She worked so hard but had to suffer," said another visitor.

Congress asked members to observe two minutes silence to mark the death of Indira Gandhi, one of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty that has dominated Indian politics for most of the years since India's independence in 1947.

Deadly anti-Sikh riots followed Gandhi's killing which was in revenge for her decision to send in the army to evict Sikh separatists from the religion's holiest site, the Golden Temple, in Punjab.

The state was racked by a violent insurgency at the time.

Indira's son Rajiv Gandhi, who was himself slain by a Tamil Tiger bomber in 1991, was widely criticised for seeming to downplay the violence when he said, "there are always tremors when a great tree falls."

Only a handful of police officials have been punished and none of the Congress leaders accused of inciting the mobs have been successfully prosecuted.

Newspapers ran retrospectives recalling Gandhi, India's only female prime minister, who spent more than 15 years in office.

"A grateful nation will never forget your sacrifice," declared an ad placed by the petroleum ministry, one of several government departments that funded notices honouring Gandhi.

The Times of India ran an ad placed by Congress which used a quote by the former leader in which she spoke of her own demise.

"If I die a violent death as some fear and a few are plotting, I know the violence will be in the thought and the action of the assassin, not in my dying," she said.

"No hate is dark enough to overshadow the extent of my love for my people and my country."

Editorials debated Gandhi's tenure, with most contrasting her authoritarian tendencies to her role as a respected stateswoman.

Her declaration of a state of emergency in 1975 -- in response to a court order ruling her 1971 election void -- is viewed as one of the darkest periods in Indian political history, with civil liberties and press freedom severely curtailed.

Inder Malhotra, writing in the Asian Age, called it a "19-month nightmare" for the country, one that Gandhi paid for "grievously" with a humiliating defeat in 1977.

"Her own insecurity led her to take steps that had damaging consequences for India," said Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times.

But there were "spectacular political achievements," he wrote, referring to Gandhi's landslide victory in 1980, shortly before the death in an airplane crash of her controversial son and chosen successor Sanjay.

Taking a conciliatory view of Gandhi's legacy, columnist Pranay Gupte wrote in The Hindu newspaper that "the Nehrus and the Gandhis were patriots, for them India did matter and that is what counts."