He would have been Rajiv Gandhi’s assassin had one ofthe three shots he fired at the former prime minister hit the target.
Karamjit Singh’s hatred towards the Gandhis dates back to 1984. He isone of the survivors of the violence against the Sikh that the nation witnessed immediately after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. A violent mob was about to attack Karamjit and his friend. They shaved theirheads and moustache, as instructed by their landlord, so that they could escapethe mob. However, his friend was caught and burnt alive. This was a great shockto Karamjit who was an engineering student then. And Rajiv Gandhi’s statement that ‘the earth shakes when a big tree (Indira) falls’ infuriated him all themore. Since then, he had been waiting to take revenge on Rajiv.
At last, the time for taking revenge came. Rajiv Gandhi was at Rajghat (the memorial to the Father of the Nation) on Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 in1986. Karamjit, who was in the mid 20s, was waiting. But he missed his target,and was arrested immediately. He spent 14 years in jail and was released in 2000.
Once out of jail, Karamjit started practsing law in Sangur district of Punjab. The 49-year-old now is contesting the Lok Sabha polls as an independent from Patiala. In an exclusive interview with Chetan Upadhyaya, Karamjit shareshis side of the story.
What prompted you to shoot at Rajiv Gandhi?
In 1984, I was doing my engineering course and staying with my friend BaldevSingh at Mansarovar Park in Delhi. After Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her own(Sikh) bodyguards in 1984, the whole country was on flames. The Sikh communitywas targeted by the people and so many Sikhs were brutally murdered and burntalive.
On November 3 1984, minutes before the angry and violent mob could reach ourlocality, I and my friend Baldev Singh were warned by the landlord to leave thehouse. Since it was a dangerous idea, he asked us to shave off our head andmoustache so that no one could recognise us as Sardars. While the ‘process’ wason, rioters started shouting from outside, ‘Throw out the Sardars of houses.Otherwise, we will burn the whole building. “I can tell you that the publicoutside was very agitated and angry. My landlord asked me to go inside thebathroom, while my friend Baldev went to another floor.
The rioters entered the building and searched every nook and corner, butcould not find anything fishy. But while they were leaving the place, theyfound locks of hair behind the steel trunk. They started to search again. Oneof them banged on the door of my bathroom and asked, “Tu Sardar hai na, chalbahar nikal.” (I know you are a Sikh, come outside now). I replied with equalconfidence and opened the door and said, “Kyon pareshan kar rahe ho, Nahaney dobhai.” (Why are you troubling me, please let me take bath). Since my face wassoaked in soap, they probably were misled and left the house.
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However, the rioters found my friend Baldev. They thrashed and threw himfrom the balcony to the road below and then threw a quilt and bed sheet overhim before lighting a matchstick. He was burnt alive and I was still lockedinside the bathroom.
After about an hour, I and many other Sikhs in the vicinity were rescued bythe military. While I was being taken in a military truck to the refugee campat the Shyamlal College, I could find so many half-burnt bodies all around.There was so much of foul smell all around. We were there in the camp for 10days. For the first three days, there was no food from the government.
On the fourth day, a local Hindu businessman sent flour for us. Since ournumber was too much, it was decided that everybody would take just one chapattionly. Thereafter, help started pouring from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries ofCharity and many NGOs. But that was a terrible experience.
And as if all these wounds were not enough, one statement from Rajiv Gandhiincreased the pain manifold. When asked by the mediapersons, he said, “Whenevera large tree falls, the earth shakes.” Clearly he was trying to justify theanti-Sikh riots after his mother’s death. This was too much. I feel that theprime minister is the constitutional head of the country and perhaps he hadforgotten that the whole country belonged to him.
The government allowed the DTC buses to run even during the curfew and thosebuses were used to transport the rioters. Never before in my life had I seensuch an open war between the people, which was fuelled by the leaders. I wasfull of revenge against Rajiv Gandhi and decided to kill him.
So, how did you go ahead?
I knew that killing the prime minister of the country was not an easy task,considering the security for him. So, finally it occurred to my mind that thisplan might be executed on Gandhi Jayanti at the Rajghat- the Samadhi of MahatmaGandhi. Now, the main problem was to get high quality arms and ammunitions.Initially, I tried to get the superior quality revolver from Punjab, butfailed. Then, finally I got a country-made revolver from Shriganganagar(Rajasthan) for Rs 300.
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Didn’t the police and the intelligence know about the plan?
I was doing it with utmost care and confidentiality, but the information wasleaked from Punjabi arms suppliers to the police and the CID. The primeminister came to know that someone from Punjab might try to shoot him on theday of Gandhi Jayanti at Rajghat in New Delhi. So commandos were deployed atthe Rajghat days before the programme.
How could you succeed?
I knew that the security will be too tight, so I made it a point to take myposition inside the Rajghat about 10 days in advance. I entered Rajghat onSeptember 22 with 35 things necessary for the operation.
I sat on an elevated platform at a height of about 10 feet from the groundbehind the bushes. Adjacent to the platform, there was a honeybee stock. On thefirst night itself, there were a lot of rains and that continued for 5 days.Unfortunately, I had no raincoat, but on the positive side, the rains did notallow the honeybees to come out and attack me.
The commandos were put in place, much in advance, but as soon as there waschange of duty, I could manage a few minutes for doing my daily chores.
Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi entered the Rajghat at around 10 am on October 22. Assoon as I saw him, I took final aim and shot a bullet at him. The bullet justmissed him. Rajivji folded his hands in the air, as if he was thanking God andwhisked aside for the Bhajan programme. When the programme was in full swing,the security personnel were looking for me. They tried to figure out thedirection from which the bullet had come.
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Some people thought that it might be some kind of firecracker. I waslistening to all their conversation as about eight Indian Police Serviceofficers were standing below me. They were all discussing and contemplating ina very serious manner.
In the meantime, a sniffer dog traced the bullet. When the programme wasover, Rajiv Gandhiji came out. He took the bullet in his hand and examined it.It was yet another opportunity for me to take aim and fire one more shot athim.
There was utter chaos this time and everybody started running here andthere. While Rajivji was running, I fired third shot taking target at his head.This too slipped the target. However, the pieces of the bullet hurt the six commandos who had formed human wall to protect the leader.
All these bullets were fired from a distance of just 25-30 feet. Within two minutes, I was in the clutches of the commandos and the police. While they started thrashing me, some leaders like H K L Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler asked the cops to shoot me at once.
Then what happened?
I was taken for interrogation. I was in police remand for 56 days. Needless to say, I was tortured beyond all limits.
Did Rajiv Gandhi meet you during this period?
Yes, he came to meet me in the special cell twice. On both the occasions,his message was the same: “If you say sorry, you shall be pardoned”, but I had no regret about what I had done, so I did not say sorry.
Tell us about your days in the prison.
I was in Tihar Jail. With the permission from the competent authorities, Idid my studies in the jail. I finished my graduation, and it was followed bypost-graduation. I wanted to do LLB. However, it was not allowed under the jailmanual. Happy with the behavior and my education, the court freed me on May 2,2000.
What did you do after that?
I enrolled for the Bachelor of Law and married Bhagwant Kaur in October,2000. I have three daughters – one of them being adopted. In 2004, I started full-time practice as a lawyer at Sangrur. I am part of the management of a school in Sunam town. Now, it is the beginning of a new life for me.
How and when did you make up your mind for contesting elections?
See, people like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, who were involved in the massacre of Sikhs, have been given clean chit by the CBI, that too after 25long years. And the Congress party is giving them tickets to contest the elections. We have to oppose it. They are a stigma on the society and we will expose them. I am going to file my papers as an independent candidate from Patiala Lok Sabha constituency.
Way back in 1991, when I was in jail and 31 years old, I was about tocontest the elections. However, the Election Commission called off the polls inPunjab at the eleventh hour.
Do you have the public support?
Yes, I enjoy mass support, but it is the silent support. Let me tell you very frankly that I do not have fleet of cars or for that matter, even enough resources for high-pitched publicity, but people are with me and that is my real strength.
Who are your main rivals?
Apart from myself, there are two candidates in the fight: Prem SinghChandumajra of the BJP-Akali combine and Parineet Kaur of the Congress. Boththese parties are experts in blackmailing the people on religious and castelines. The people are simply fed up of them and wanted some third option. So fortunately, they have got a third option in me.
What will you do for the people if you are elected as a Member of the Parliament?
I will try to give happiness to the people by solving their problems. My priority will be to increase the level of ground water by increasing the number of water resources. I will be fighting against the corruption and also put anend to the battle of caste and religion. I will also try to check the rampant corruption in the field of education where the degrees are openly sold in the market. In nutshell, I will try to deliver results in minimum time.
There are about 13 lakh voters in the Patiala Lok Sabha constituency and ifthey vote for me, they will find the rare combination of a Sikh-Ambedkar-NetajiSubhash Chandra Bose in me. Sikh means one who cares for the self-respect;Ambedkar means who believes in justice to even the poor, down-trodden and the oppressed and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose means who works and fights for thepeople bravely and fearlessly.
We would like to clarify to our readers that we condemn terrorism by anyindividual or organization. What we have presented above is an interview of aperson who was proved guilty of attacking Rajiv Gandhi, imprisoned for 14 yearsand is now contesting the Lok Sabha elections