21st May, 1991 : The news flashed across all the Television sets. One of India’s most charismatic and popular leader -Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.
The whole nation was plunged into a pall of gloom. All the Television channels showed scenes of men and women wailing and crying at the loss of their beloved leader.
Every Indian had a feeling of sorrow, anger and deep sense of indignation at the dastardly crime.
The case was a major challenge for the investigation agencies. The nation wanted the culprits to be brought to book immediately. People were getting impatient!
Investigation was swift and efficient. Within four days of the assassination, the suspected killers were identified. All natinoal newspapers flashed pictures of the suspected assassin.
I was reading the newspaper and gazing at the pictures of the suspected assassin depicted in various possible disguises that he could assume.
Suddenly our driver returned from an errand that he was sent. He saw the newspaper in my hand, looked at the pictures and asked curiosly, “ Sir, who is this?”. “Appa Rao, these are the photos of the suspected assassin of Rajiv Gandhi.
Appa Rao had a closer look at the pictures and exclaimed, “Sir, I saw this guy just now in Ramnagar”.
“What? I exclaimed almost jumping out of my chair! Is that true? No, Appa Rao, take a closer look. It may not be the guy” I said even before he could answer my question.
“No Sir. I have no doubt it is the same guy. You know, while I was unable to find a house that I was looking for. Knocked at the door of a house to enquire. While I was talking to one of the inmates at the door step, this person came out of the room. Upon seeing me, he quickly went back inside. I also overheard him speak in Tamil. I am sure he is the same guy.” He explained animatedly, as if he was dead sure it was him.
“Then as responsible citizens, we should report to the police” I said.
“No, No!! Are you mad? This is dangerous and we should not get involved!!.” interjected my father, hearing our conversation.
Being a dutiful son, I was constrained to obey the views of “worldly-wise” Dad!!
But the incident and Appa Rao’s confidence that it was him, kept preying on my mind. I was in a quandary…I am doing the right thing? Am I failing in my duty as a responsible citizen?...
The dilemma made me restless. I decided to share my predicament with close friend Mahesh.
“Munna, a brave man, who is indifferent is no better than a coward. Let us just report the matter to the police and they will investigate. How is your father going to know about it? We will just give them a clue and the police will take it from there. Let’s do it” said Mahesh.
I thought it was a brilliant idea!!
We drove straight to the office of the Police Commissioner. When we explained the purpose of our mission, the Station Officer immediately ushered us into the Office of the Commissioner.
I quickly narrated the whole episode of Appa Rao’s experience. “Sir, as a responsible citizen, I have reported the matter to you. Now it is for you to follow up. I would like to be excused.”
“No, you are not done yet. We need further information about the location of this house”, he said firmly with a voice of authority!
‘Sir, I have not been there myself. Only my father’s driver has seen the place”, I pleaded.
“Then we need to get to your father’s driver”, He exclaimed. The tone of authority weakened our resolve not to get involved.
The Commissioner was in plain clothes and looked quite plain and handsome but the authority with which he spoke, send shivers down my spine. I began to regret my decision…Gosh! What have I got myself into?” I thought to myself.
He quickly picked up his service revolver lead us to get into his car. While traveling in the car, he sent out coded messages on his radio ordering for armed reinforcements to join him for the search operation.
I was amazed at his composure. He remained completely unfazed in the face of this major challenge.
I was equally amazed at the swift response of his team.
A dozen police vehicles full of armed commandos, soon joined us.
We drove straight into the refinery, where my father was working, found my father and Appa Rao. Both of them were terrified seeing such a large entourage of police vehicles.
Seeing me in the company of the policemen, was a bigger shock for my father.
He did not utter a word but I could see the seething anger in his eyes… I lowered my eyes to avoid his angry gaze…actually feeling a deep sense of remorese for not following his instructions.
Dad and Appa Rao, joined the entourage.
Appa Rao identified the house.
“107 take a group of twelve men and cover the rear of the house. 354, you take your group and cover the front and the sides. No one should be allowed to escape.” shouted the Commissioner.
The battery of policemen surrounded the house. The number of curious onlookers started to increase.
He pushed his revolver in the back of his trousers and walked straight to the door of the house along with two of his men. They knocked on the door.
A lady opened the house. She screamed in fright on the sight of the gun-totting policemen. The Commissioner calmed her down and entered in… He began interrogating all the inmates of the house..
The whole process took a couple of hours.
Investigations revealed that the person Appa Rao had seen indeed resembled the assassin but was not the assassin.
It turned out that he was the brother of the lady who worked in the nearby Fertilizer Plant.
The incident turned out to be a hoax, but Mahesh & I were proud of doing my duty unto our Nation..
But no one, not even Mahesh actually know the details of my “encounter” with my Dad when I got back home!!