Political people are no longer as harmful as they were back in the 1990s. Political murders are uncommon now. Yes, there have been helicopter crashes, car accidents, suicides, etc.; especially with those people whose stature rose to a point where they became threat to an Italian barmaid. Some of them are Madhav Rao Scindia, Rajesh Pilot, YS Rajashekhar Reddy, Dorjee Khandu, Kalikho Pul, Jitendra Prasada, and Sanjay Gandhi. But these were not murders, mind you; only mysterious deaths!
Then, on 4th August, 2017, there was a “vicious & life threatening” attack on the convoy of India’s eternal crown-prince-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi. His car was attacked with stones, in the true spirit of KASRMIRIYAT is alive even in other parts of the country, such as Gujarat. But why was he not travelling in a bulletproof car, despite having the security cover of the most elite security service in the country, the SPG? SPG was specially created for (serving and former) Prime Ministers and their immediate families.
Anyway, this drama reminded me of a very interesting story involving his uncle, Sanjay Gandhi. It took place a little over 40 years ago. The year was 1977. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had just freed the country from the demons of emergency that she had imposed. [Indira giveth, Indira taketh away!]
Indira’s younger son, the dabang Sanjay Gandhi was campaigning with full vigour in his constituency of Amethi. The Wikipedia page conveniently mentions in one line that Sanjay Gandhi had escaped an “assassination attempt” when “some unknown gunmen” fired gunshots at his car during his campaign. It was on the night of 14/15 March, 1977. I have managed to dig some details out from this largely hushed up incident. Here were the highlights:
- Sanjay Gandhi was the most powerful man in all of India. Indians lived in fear of his name. No Indian had the nerve to oppose his word. Trying to shoot at him was out of question! The CID has failed to file a closure report. [#DayaDarwazaTodDo]
- The timing was ideal! Sanjay Gandhi’s public meetings & rallies were receiving lukewarm responses. Maneka Gandhi was being booed by the crowds. [#SackManekaGandhi] Nobody seemed to want to kill Sanjay Gandhi for his ruthless atrocities during the 2 years of emergency. And suddenly, 2 days before the elections, somebody suddenly decided to pump some bullets into him? And managed to vanish into thin air! There would be no time for investigations. And his political opponents would be the usual suspects. To sum it all up, Sympathy votes were need of the hour.
- Sanjay Gandhi had completed his work at 9:30 pm at his posh dak bungalow in Amethi. Now, 9:30 pm might be early evening in large Indian cities; but it is late night in rural India today, as it was in 1977. (One must consider that there were fewer pubs and no pornography back then!). An associate tried to convince him to rest at the dwelling. Yet, Sanjay insisted on travelling to Gauriganj.
- When Sanjay Gandhi started his journey, the senior most afsar (officer) of Amethi District (the District Magistrate) named Afsar Hussain, for some reason, held the security van back. The van always accompanied Sanjay Gandhi. Always. How did the assailants know that there would be no security van that night?
- There seems to be some amount of confusion on the incident’s specific details – simple things like whether it was Gulzari Lal Kalra who was driving or was it Jodh Singh; or whether the attackers vehicle was green or grey in colour.
- All India Radio had gathered responses from as many as one dozen Chief Ministers (from as far away states as Rajasthan and Assam) for their 6 am bulletin. In 1977. An age when there was no high speed internet. And everyone seemed so relaxed & calm with their speeches! There was no shock.
- 4 days before the incident, one of the 3 men accompanying Sanjay Gandhi had bought a .38 revolver. And the attackers had used a … (no points for guessing) .38” revolver! And it was untraceable.
- Sanjay Gandhi’s car was negotiating a bend at the time of the attack. One can safely presume that the car must be at a very slow speed. The FIR states that the attackers were approaching from the opposite direction & showered some 5 bullets. All 5 missed Sanjay Gandhi, who was sitting in the front seat.
- If they insist that they were not slow, then out of those 5 shots, the 4 bullets which managed to hit the jeep were very close to each other. It does not take an expert in armed combat to understand that when you shoot at a swiftly moving jeep, no matter what the speed, the bullet holes cannot be so close to each other!
- On the contrary, Sanjay Gandhi’s bodyguard, Jodh Singh, a reputed sharp shooter, also claimed to have fired back 3 bullets from the back seat; but he was wide off the target & the assailants got away into the night.
- And finally, while the government owned newspapers (Samachar), radio (AIR), & television (Doordarshan) reported it with full vigour, the remaining media largely gave little attention to the news of the “attack”. The now defunct Washington Star, an American newspaper, added an icing on the cake. It claimed to have information that Sanjay Gandhi was planning nationwide riots to stop the elections. The newspaper was quickly … silenced.
But things didn’t quite work out the way Sanjay Gandhi would have wanted them to. With such gaping loopholes, the case generated more suspicion than sympathy. Even his most faithful stalwarts (read: chamchas), such as the Raja of Tiloi, were not completely convinced & when asked for an opinion, looked embarrassed tried to circumvent the question. 3 days later at the hustings, the janta had sealed their verdict in ballot boxes. When the results were declared, the inevitable finally happened. Sanjay Gandhi was drubbed. Even his mother Indira Gandhi had lost her seat (Raebareli). The foundation was laid for the first non congress government. And the rest, as they say, was history.