Hardly three months into my job as Home Secretary and, on 2 October, I received a frantic call from the Home Minister early in the morning. He was screaming his head off, saying that there was an attempt on the life of Rajiv Gandhi when he came to Rajghat to pay annual homage to Mahatma Gandhi. I calmed him down and rushed to my office to handle the aftermath of the failed assassination attempt.
My enquiries from the IB revealed that it was gross failure on the part of Kaul, DIG, Security, of the Delhi Police, in screening the area before the visit of the dignitaries to Rajghat that day. Despite an alert issued by the IB, based on a RAW report that there may be an assassination attempt by a person hiding in the shrubbery, the DIG, instead of personally screening the area, had put up an alert on his noticeboard for his subordinates to take action.
Kaul was highly connected - he was the son of Sheila Kaul, a cousin of Rajiv Gandhi. I drafted the order suspending him from service for gross negligence of duty. I took the draft order to the Home Minister and at first he was unwilling to approve it, but finally I obtained his consent.
As the Prime Minister was busy with other engagements, neither Buta Singh nor I could meet him until late in the evening that day. I went in my official car to pick up Buta Singh from his residence and, as he got into the car to proceed to the Prime Minister's residence, I found him holding a japamala (a beaded necklace) and chanting a prayer.
During the journey I suggested to Buta Singh that we both should offer to step down from our respective jobs when we meet the Prime Minister as we had failed to provide foolproof security to him. Buta Singh asked whether it was necessary to do so and I reiterated my advice to him.
The Prime Minister congratulated the Home Minister for the prompt action taken by him to place the DIG, Security, under suspension. Buta Singh, apprehensive till then about the outcome of the meeting with the Prime Minister, perked up, accepting the congratulations of the Prime Minister.
While the conversation was on I whispered to Buta Singh to offer his resignation but he ignored me until I myself opened up, owning moral responsibility for failing to provide security to the Prime Minister. I offered to step down from my post as Home Secretary and Buta Singh joined in the chorus about failing in our responsibility.
The Prime Minister said it was not necessary as the person directly responsible for the security failure had been proceeded against for disciplinary action. Buta Singh was very happy at the outcome and during our journey back he thanked me for the good advice that I had given him.
There is a humorous sequel to this story. Rajiv Gandhi, while describing this incident to his Cabinet colleagues, exhibited a wry sense of humour. He mentioned that, immediately after the shots from the assailant were heard, the local Police surrounded the canopy from all sides and started firing at the assailant who was hiding at the top of the canopy, but not a single shot hit the assailant who finally stood up with his hands up, to surrender, when the Police firing abated.
With a twinkle in his eyes, the Prime Minister said that, fortunately, the assailant was not at ground level, in which event, the policeman would have killed each other by their aimless firing, leaving the assailant unscathed! Turning to me, Rajiv Gandhi said, 'Mr Home Secretary, I think the Delhi Police need better shooting practice lest they kill each other.' There was spontaneous laughter all round.