On June 23, 1980, Indira Gandhi’s younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, died in a plane crash. The controversial former Member of Parliament from Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, faced three assassination attempts throughout his life. He was a key figure during an emergency, but according to Wikileaks Cables, Indira Gandhi did not see him as a leader but only as a ‘small fry‘ or a Karyakarta for Congress Party.
In September 1976 dispatch, the US Embassy reported that the younger son of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was targeted by an unknown assailant. Though the attack was a “well-planned assassination attempt”, Gandhi escaped and was not seriously injured. According to the Cable, he was shot three times on August 30 or 31 during an emergency.
As the cable mentioned, he was not seriously injured, it can be assumed that he sustained some form of injuries, but their nature was not specified. Interestingly, the cable-based information of the assassination attempt of the information supplied by sources in Indian intelligence. The cable stated, “According to Indian intelligence, this is the third attempt on the younger Gandhi’s life.” It further blamed the revolutionary elements sponsored by ‘outside forces’ for the attack.
The telegraphic communication provided by US intelligence to the State Department on September 6, 1976, read, “Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay was shot three times on August 30 or 31 by an unknown assailant, according to a confidential source, but was not critically injured. The shots were apparently fired by a high-powered rifle in a well-planned assassination attempt while Sanjay was visiting the state of Uttar Pradesh. According to Indian intelligence, this is the third attempt on the younger Gandhi’s life. Information concerning the incident is under tight control at present, but the attack will eventually be blamed on “revolutionary elements sponsored by outside powers”.”
Before the Wikileaks cable made the document public, there was no information about any such attempt on Sanjay’s life. Other US cables described the role of Sanjay Gandhi in Indian politics as an authoritarian figure behind the Emergency who worked extensively to ensure his mother’s power remained unchallenged.
When Janata Party came to power, several investigations were commenced. However, none of them mentioned any attempts on the life of Sanjay Gandhi. The 33-year-old young MP was killed in the plane crash on June 23, 1980, soon after Congress came back to power.
According to some claims, Sanjay ignored his elder brother’s advice to wear proper shoes in the cockpit while flying the plane. When he was flying the advanced Pitts S-2A aircraft, he was reportedly wearing Kolhapuri Chappals while dressed in Kurta-Payjama. When the plane crashed, he was flying it low and indulged in some rackless manoeuvres, possibly resulting in the crash.
Sanjay, and the accompanying pilot and instructor of Delhi Flying Club, Captain Subhash Saxena, died on the spot. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on June 24, 1980, that he died of head injuries.