It was 9:05 AM at 1, Safdarjung Road, the official residence of Prime Minister at New Delhi. Mrs Indira Gandhi, wearing a light orange sari and black sandals was walking towards her office at the adjoining 1, Akbar Road. The famous British actor Peter Ustinov was filming a documentary for Irish television was waiting there with his TV crew, to conduct his interview.
Delhi Police head Constable Narain Singh, who was holding a black umbrella over Mrs Gandhi’s head, possibly to shield her make up from early winter sun. Mrs Gandhi saw a servant carrying a tea set to place in front of Ustinov during the interview which was to start in the next couple of minutes. She told the servant to bring another fancier tea set which was normally used on very special occasions.
She walked briskly on the 20 mt cemented path, surrounded by neem and oak trees towards the gate separating the official residence and her office. More than halfway along the cemented path were two khakhi uniformed Sikh security men from Delhi Police.
The older man was Inspector Beant Singh whom she knew for last 10 years while the younger one was 21 year old constable Satwant Singh who was assigned to PM security for last five months.
Mrs Gandhi was hardly at five metre distance when Beant Singh took his .38 calibre revolver and fired three bullets towards her. She fell to the ground but Satwant Singh pointed his Sterling Sten gun and pumped all 30 bullets in her body. The time was 9.09 AM.
It was chaos all around and in next six minutes Tarsem Singh and Ram Sharan from Indo-Tibetan Border Police captured and killed Beant Singh in the adjoining security room. Satwant Singh also received the bullet injury but was arrested by other bodyguards along with Kehar Singh, another accomplice who was trying to escape.
The ambulance driver at PM’s residence was missing and so Dr R Opeh, the CGHS doctor on duty, daughter in law Sonia Gandhi and a security personnel placed her in an official white ambassador and was immediately rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at New Delhi where she was taken to the casualty.
The doctors, who examined her, reportedly checked her eyes and found her pupils dilated and fixed. They tried to feel for her pulse but found none and from there , she was shifted to Operation Theatre No. 2 on the 8th floor . The doctors were desperately trying to stop the bleeding.
The team of doctors who were attending to Mrs Gandhi included the Cardiac Surgeons Dr P. Venugopal, Dr Balaram and Dr A. Sampat Kumar. There were General Surgeons Dr Dhawan and Dr M.M. Kapoor and the anaesthetist G.R. Gode.
The hospital generally kept four bottles of Ms Gandhi’s rare blood group, O-negative in their stock but through that afternoon, the Hospital procured blood from other hospitals and as reported administered 30 to 40 bottles of blood.
It was becoming apparent to the doctors that Ms Gandhi was not responding to the treatment and her pupils remained motionless and dilated throughout the operation and she never regained pulse. Finally, after losing every hope of saving her from the inevitable, they declared her dead but the news was kept closely guarded secret as nothing was announced officially. It was 2.30 PM in New Delhi
It was just another normal day at Doordarshan, the only TV channel in those days. Though the news department was informed about the developments at the Prime Minister residence, no special bulletin came.
BBC was the first media house to announce the death of Mrs Gandhi in their special news bulletin saying “The Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead in a shootout at her official residence”. It was 2.00 PM in New Delhi.
Her son, Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning in Kolaghat, West Bengal when he was informed about the shooting and after cancelling his meetings, he abandoned his Ambassador car and got into a black Mercedes and sped off towards the helipad at Kolaghat with Pranab Mukherjee, Ghani Khan Chowdhury. It was 9.45 AM.
“We thought the Mercedes would take lesser time than the Ambassador, hence the switch,” Mukherjee said in an interview. In the recently published memoirs of President Pranab Mukherjee, he writes that on the flight from Calcutta to Delhi after hearing the news of Mrs Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984, Rajiv asked him “would I be able to manage as Prime minister”.
Meanwhile, Rajiv put on the car radio and tuned into BBC world news. At around 10.00 am the three men, sitting silently in the back seat of the Mercedes and now speeding towards Kolaghat over 100 km per hour, heard the news of assassination in shocked disbelief. BBC did not confirm Mrs Gandhi’s death but did report that she was at All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in critical condition.
The broadcast went on giving details, sketchy as they were then, about the shooting and the suspected killers. It was pin drop silence inside the car and all men sat in the car in grim silence. The only words Rajiv spoke, recalled the ex President Mukherjee were ‘Is this all she deserved?'”
The three men flew by chopper to Calcutta, 40 kilometres away. There were two aircrafts standing by at the Calcutta Dumdum airport and within minutes Rajiv, Mukherjee and Chowdhury were on board in the Indian Airlines Boeing where they were joined by Uma Shankar Dikshit, his daughter-in-law Sheila Dikshit, Lok Sabha speaker Balram Jakhar and veteran Congress leader Shyamlal Yadav. The Lok Sabha secretary S Aggarwal and Rajya Sabha secretary S Kashyap were also accompanying them in the flight.
The flight left Calcutta for Delhi and Mukherjee, Dikshit and Rajiv sat in seats 2A, 2B and 2C, just behind the cockpit. Rajiv was seated next to the aisle and within minutes he made his way to the familiar cockpit where he had spent 12 of his last 16 years as an airline pilot. In the cockpit, the atmosphere was equally tense. The pilots were in continuous touch with the ground control and kept Rajiv informed of the latest situation in New Delhi. The cockpit watch showed the time, it was 1.15 PM.
It was almost 1.25 PM when the news Rajiv was expecting, but dreaded to hear, came crackling over the aircraft radio. Mrs Gandhi had finally succumbed to her injuries. A few minutes later, at 1.30 PM, an expressionless Rajiv came out of the cockpit and told Mukherjee and Uma Shankar Dikshit that Mrs Gandhi was no more. He was surprisingly very calm and his composure was striking. “He was in complete control of himself,” recalls Mukherjee, “though he obviously was in deep shock.”
Balram Jakhar, who was speaker of the Lok Sabha that time would have a pivotal role to play in ensuring an orderly succession, finally asked Mukherjee bluntly “Do you think Rajiv should be inducted as Prime Minister?”
Mukherjee recalls quite vividly that everyone in that flight agreed that AIR and Doordarshan should not officially broadcast the news of Mrs Gandhi’s death till
evening, long after the BBC had confirmed the news. By that time Rajiv was all set to be sworn as the sixth Prime minister of India. It was 6.45 PM in New Delhi and the politics in India has taken a historical turn.