When a journalist ordered firing?
I was passing by Gurdwara Rakabganj today and thoughts of what happened many many years ago came back to me. To be precise it was October 12, 1982 and I was barely one month old as a reporter in the Times of India. I had been assigned the Crime beat along with my late friend Ravi Bhatia and my chief Yoginder Bali had instructed me to keep a watch on the Akalis agitation, which was going on in the capital. Every day, a Jatha of Akalis would court arrest at Parliament Street as part of their ongoing agitation.
However, things were different on October 12th. I was at Patel Chowk when Sriniwasan, the Hindu photographer came on his scooter and informed the journalists gathered there that Akalis have turned unruly near Gurdwara Rakabganj and had set some buses and vehicles on fire. It was a normal reporters instinct to be at the spot so I rushed towards Gurdwara Rakabganj. On the Mahadev Road, a pitched battle between the Akalis and police was going on and stones were being hurled from both sides. A police motorcycle was on fire and the two riders had been rescued by their colleagues before some Akali youngsters could reach them. There was total chaos and things seemed to be out of control.
As I proceeded towards Pandit Pant Marg, I saw the Gujarat police on the run. The Gujarat police had been posted in Delhi for special assignments and decided to retreat seeing the Akalis rushing towards them with open swords. Slogans of Jo Bole So Nihal echoed in the background as youngsters chased the police away.
I somehow managed to reach the segment of Pandit Pant Marg just after the round about and opposite the Gurdwara where an intensive clash was on and the police was at the receiving end. My colleague, Sharad Saxena, the photographer had taken some excellent pictures as he was the only one present when the battle had began. His frames had both the police and the Akalis facing each other while all other photographers had taken pictures from behind the police contingent.
I and four other journalists now were at the spot where there was maximum action. The New Delhi DCP, R.K.Sharma also reached the spot and was leading from the front. Seeing the police being beaten despite teargas shells being lobbed, a journalist belonging to a vernacular press kept on telling Mr Sharma to open firing. The DCP was least impressed and the stone pelting from both sides continued. This went on till about 4 or 4.30 p.m. But the all of a sudden about a dozen Akalis youngsters waving their swords jumped over the Gurdwara wall and rushed towards the police. The police (including CRPF) retreated inside a ground (where Lok Sabha TV studios now are situated) and we raced towards the Parliament House wall fearing the worst. It was like this. The journalists running towards the wall, climbing which was the only way to safety. The police running behind us and the Akalis in hot pursuit. It looked like it was going to be a very close affair.
Once near the wall, Rastogi of All India Radio climbed it first. He was still on the top when this particular vernacular press journalist dressed in a green safari and wearing green photo chormatic glasses virtually ordered the DCP to open fire (otherwise Panditji Hum Sab mar jaenge’’, he pleaded. The DCP was reluctant. All this happened in a few seconds and the journalist again shouted at the DCP and said “aap kyon nahin kehte ki fire…fire’’. A CRPF jawan probably mistook the journalist to be some sort of a superior authority (Magistrate or otherwise) since he was talking so angrily with the DCP. He thought that orders for firing had been given. He opened fire. Five or six of the advancing youth fell on the ground (Five died in that incident). Rastogi who was sitting on the wall with one leg on either side was so shocked that he fell on the other end inside the Parliament house premises. Momentarily we thought that there had been firing from the other side also and he had been hit. But he was totally fine except some injuries.
The shell shocked DCP stood silently as the Akalis retreated leaving some of the wounded/dead on the ground, which we immediately described as Delhi’s Jalianwala Bagh. The journalist did not realize what he had done and what happened.
The same evening, the New Delhi Addl. CP, N.K. Singhal held a press conference where we asked him as to who ordered the firing. He tried to evade the question and after some prompting named Hari Dev, the Parliament Street ACP who was not even there. I do not know how the issue was sorted out in the records and I believe the DCP and ACP both owned up to the firing. But the truth lay elsewhere. The issue became a hot topic of discussion both in journalistic and police circles. Prabha Dutt who was the Chief Reporter of Hindustan Times even referred to the incident in her weekly column, Follow Me Around and stated upfront that the firing was indeed ordered by a journalist.
The journalist in question is now a very important figure in Delhi politics and denies that he was responsible for the firing. But the truth is that the CRPF jawan mistook him for someone he was not and fired. Like many other happenings this memory is deeply etched in my mind.