NEW DELHI: “Either my life is mine as a matter of right, or it is not mine at all,” Satwant Singh told his lawyer last week, “I won’t live at the mercy of anyone.”

While others plead with him to seek clemency, the convicted assassin of Indira Gandhi waits stoically in Tihar Central Jail to be hanged. India’s two best known hangmen have been summoned to the capital and about three meters ‘of special Manila rope have been procured for their use.

“I’ll see him again tomorrow (Monday), and plead with him one last time to ask the President for mercy,” lawyer R.S. Sodhi said in an interview yesterday. “But really, Satwant feels it is all in God’s hands now. He has become very philosophical.”

Kehar Singh, also convicted of conspiracy in the 1984 assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, has filed a formal petition for mercy from Indian President Ramaswamy Venkataraman, The President has 90 days to rule on the plea but there are strong indications that at least one man will be executed this week. “T think it will be soon after Oct 19,” said Mr, Sodhi, the prominent Sikh lawyer who represents both men. “The authorities are eager to get it over with.”

The “black warrant” ordering the two men’s death was signed last Wednesday. Under Indian law, executions cannot take place one week after a death warrant has been signed. Kehar Singh cannot be hanged before the President has ruled on his petition, but 23 year old Satwant Singh could be executed alone.

The young Sikh, who was one of Mrs. Gandhi’s bodyguards, alleged by emptied his Thompson machine gun into the Prime Minister’s body on October 31, 1984 after a more senior guard had fired three pistol shots into her abdomen.

Gunmen reportedly raised their hands and said, “We have done what we had to do. Now you can do whatever you want to do.”

The alleged senior triggerman, Beant Singh, was shot dead by other guards during “questioning” on the day of the killing. Satwant Singh was shot the same day, suffering serious injuries to his spine and kidneys.

Kehar Singh, who took no part in Mrs. Gandhi’s shooting, was convicted to involvement in the assassination plot.

His lawyer says Satwant Singh has not left his 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 meter jail cell since the signing of the death warrants last week. Mr. Sodhi says his client, who used to jog and play badminton in prison, now spends his time reading religious texts and reciting inspirational couplets.

“He wasn’t religious at all until Operation Bluestar,” the lawyer said in reference to the Indian Army’s 1984 offensive against the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which apparently inspired the assassination plot against Mrs. Gandhi.

“Now his favorite couplet is one which translates like this: “When I return everything back to you, then there is nothing left to give or take, it is a prayer to God.”

On Saturday, the All India Sikh Conference appealed to Mr. Venkataraman to stay the executions of the two men. But any formal appeal for mercy must come by Wednesday from Satwant Singh himself.

The United News of India, quoting “high placed sources,” in the Indian government has reported that both prisoners will be hanged “any day after Oct. 19.” The news agency said the exact date is being kept secret for security reasons, but has already been decided by the judge who issued the death warrants.

Dozens of Indian reporters have surrounded the suburban New Delhi jail where the two men are being held and will be executed. Tihar Jail authorities, under daily questioning, have revealed several bits of information about the impending executions.

Hangmen named Fakira and Kallu Ram have been summoned from their homes in Patiala and Meerut. Each will be paid the equivalent of $10 for his work.

The jail has been forced to refurbish its gallows, which has not been used since the February, 1984, hanging of a political leader who was the former head of the Kashmir Liberation Front, Officials say the gallows has rusted and is being oiled to assure “a smooth hanging.”

Mr, Sohi said Satwant Singh remains in “high spirits” despite the death sentence. But the lawyer sees little chance his client will relent and seek clemency before Wednesday’s deadline.

The last time the subject was raised, Mr. Sodhi describes Satwant Singh’s reaction as a shrug and the reply; “What mercy can you expect from these people?”

The lawyer refused to discuss the legal merits of Satwant Singh’s case, but said that Kehar Singh had been convicted on “very flimsy” evidence and that his death sentence might be commuted by the President

“I presume he will study the case well,” Mr. Sodhi said. “Kehar Singh has very good case. Even if the jury has overreacted to the evidence, I hope the President will see through it and grant the petition.”

Article extracted from this publication >> October 21, 1988