11/11/2014 04:27 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2015

Indira Gandhi: 30 Years Later, Not a Fond Memory

It's hard to believe now that three decades have rolled by since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India was assassinated in her own garden in New Delhi by two Sikh bodyguards. India changed forever on that day.

It changed because Mrs. Gandhi's death triggered the worst sort of communal fury -- more than 2,000 innocent Sikh men, women and children were slaughtered by largely Hindu mobs egged on, indeed even directed, by accomplices of the ruling Congress Party. To this day, few, if any, of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

That slaughter shattered the myth that Indians had long cherished: that the nation that won its independence from the British Raj through Mahatma Gandhi's advocacy of nonviolence was an exemplar of communal harmony. Where else in the world would millions of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, and others live side by side, sharing 16 major languages and more than 875 dialects?

Where else indeed? I was in Delhi on that tragic day and my mind was numbed by what I saw. How could we Indians do this to one another? Weren't we inheritors not only of Gandhi's philosophy but also of 5,000 years of culture?

India's population has doubled since October 31, 1984, and there's a whole new generation of Indians -- and others -- for whom Indira Gandhi is a very distant memory, if at all. She left no lasting legacy of good governance; despite convenient slogans advocating poverty alleviation, more Indians remain below the poverty line than ever before. Indira accelerated political corruption, a system in which there was a price for every industrial permission, every permit. Indira created The License Raj. The corruption it spawned still bedevils India.

That's an unkind thing to say about a woman who was murdered in her own garden by guards she'd trusted. But Indira was India's prime minister for 17 long years, and her rule has little to show for it. She could have empowered India's women by expediting education and employment opportunities. She could have developed India's vast rural areas. She could have pushed technology.

Instead, social shibboleths were wantonly tossed around. Government bureaucracies proliferated. Catchy slogans calling for sustainable economic development did not necessarily translate into implementable policy. Indira did not nurture a bold new class of young men and women who could run the country, whose population today is 1.2 billion.

So on this 30th anniversary of her assassination, it's impossible to remember Indira Gandhi fondly. She did not serve India well, and India was ill served by her. R.I.P.