That fateful day of October 31st,1984

Courtesy :- The Week India

My shirt was dyed with Indiraji’s blood

By R.K. Dhawan

Mrs Gandhi returned from Orissa on the evening of October 30, 1984. Usually, she held a durbar for visitors from all over the country at her residence, 1 Safdarjung Road, at 8 every morning. But it was a norm that whenever she returned from a trip in the evening, the next morning’s durbar would be cancelled. We suggested that she should cancel her morning appointment and take rest, but she insisted on the appointment with Peter Ustinov, as he had already recorded a part of the film during her Orissa tour.

So it was decided that instead of meeting people at her residence, she would meet Ustinov at 1 Akbar Road. As usual, I reached 1 Safdarjung Road at 8 a.m. on October 31. Mrs Gandhi had demanded a good hairdresser and Nathu Ram, her attendant, had got one.

When I entered her room, she was getting her hair styled. She was very particular about personal aesthetics. So much so that I would often indicate to her, if a hair was out of place, by placing my hand on my own hair. She turned to me even as the hairdresser worked. President Giani Zail Singh was out of the country but was returning the same day. Mrs Gandhi had planned a dinner for Princess Anne that evening at her residence. She instructed me on a few specifics about the guest list. I took notes about the requirements. I still have the page on which I took her last orders.

Within the next few minutes, she was ready for the interview. Right then Sharada Prasad, who always accompanied her during TV interviews, sent a minder from 1 Akbar Road. He said the lawns were still being cleared of Diwali crackers and it would take a few more minutes before the filming could begin. Mrs Gandhi was unhappy about this delay and asked me to ensure a clean lawn by the time the camera rolled.

By 9 a.m. she was ready for the film and she started walking towards the wicket gate connecting 1 Safdarjung Road with 1 Akbar Road. As usual, I was walking a few steps behind her. She was such a brisk walker that it was sometimes tough keeping pace with her. As we walked, a waiter passed her with cups and saucers on a tray.

She stopped and asked the waiter to show her the cups and asked him where he was taking them. The waiter said Ustinov had asked for a full tea set to be placed before her during the interview. She immediately dismissed the tea set and instructed him to go back and get the special ones. Having said this, she resumed walking. These moments were like ages for me as I saw history unfold before me in all its tragic shape.

As soon as she reached the wicket gate she folded her hands in ‘namaste’ for the guards. I saw Beant Singh raise his pistol and shoot at her. She spun and fell on the ground. Even as she fell, Satwant Singh started firing his Sten gun at her fallen body. She was not even standing when Satwant fired at her. Such was the brutality.

I saw what was happening and went cold momentarily. I still shudder to think what I saw. As I was still gathering my senses, Beant said in Punjabi, “We have done what we had to do. Now you can do what you have to.” In the melee that ensued, I was seized with the idea of taking Indira to hospital. I shouted for an ambulance but there was none available. So I put her in an Ambassador.

As we entered All India Institute of Medical Sciences, we realised that the VIP section was closed. So we wheeled her into the casualty. Doctors had been informed that the Prime Minister had been shot. So a team of doctors had gathered there. There was almost no possibility of reviving her. Yet, they took her to the operation theatre.

Even as she was being wheeled out, Arun Nehru came in. He was totally emotionless and said the people of India would not sit quiet and there was bound to be large-scale violence in response to this attack. I returned to 1 Safdarjung Road with difficulty. Riots had already broken out across Delhi targeting the Sikhs.

As I walked into the PM’s residence, Sharada Prasad said, “Your shirt is blood-stained. Please change it.” For the first time, I noticed there was Indiraji’s blood on my shirt. I sent my driver to my Golf Link residence for a new set of clothes. He brought me a fresh set and I changed. By evening Delhi was burning.

The dinner in honour of Princess Anne was cancelled. Rajiv had arrived from West Bengal and Zail Singh, too, landed in the afternoon as Delhi lost its senses. Indira’s death was announced at 4 p.m. Her body was first brought to 1 Safdarjung Road and early next morning, the body was shifted to Teen Murti Bhavan. I still shudder to think of the last day of her life. I can never recover from that terrible memory.

I joined Indira’s staff in 1962 and stayed with her till the end. Many people came and went, including the likes of P.N. Haksar, P.N. Dhar and R.N. Kao. But though many ended their ties with her, I did not. Some criticise me for different reasons, but I must say that I was with Indiraji in her last moments. One day I shall write my story and those who blame me will stand exposed.

When Delhi burned
Even as Indira was being wheeled out of hospital, Arun Nehru came in. He was totally emotionless and said the people of India would not sit quiet and there was bound to be large-scale violence in response to this attack.

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