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Do you think I can manage as PM: Rajiv had asked after Indira Gandhi's death

Pranab Mukherjee in the second volume of his memoir has talked about Babri Masjid demolition and Operation Bluestar amongst other things.

Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee in the second volume of his memoir, The Turbulent Years: 1980-96 has talked about Babri Masjid demolition and Operation Bluestar amongst other things.

He has also talked about how Rajiv Gandhi wanted to know 'how potent' the bullets were after Indira Gandhi was shot by her bodyguards in 1984 and has enumerated the hours between the former PM's assassination and the naming of the next prime minister, as per Hindustan Times.

Following is the extract from the book as published by the Daily on the issue -

With the agenda of revamping the faction-ridden party organization, Rajiv Gandhi went on a tour of West Bengal at the end of October 1984. He arrived at Bagdogra airport near Siliguri in North Bengal on 29 October... On 31 October 1984 after addressing the first meeting at Ramnagar, Rajiv Gandhi reached Contai (Kanthi) where he began addressing his second meeting of the day. It was here that I received a message on the police wireless at 9.30 am: ‘lndira Gandhi assaulted. Return to Delhi immediately.’

l immediately passed Rajiv a note, even as he was addressing the meeting, asking him to cut short the speech. He did so, and as soon as he sat down, I told him about the message. I suggested that we cancel all other engagements and return to Delhi immediately, and he agreed... Four of us - Rajiv Gandhi, Ghani Khan Choudhury, Rajiv’s PSO (personal security officer) and l - left Contai at around 9.40 am... Throughout the journey, Rajiv remained composed, but kept the transistor radio tuned to BBC news. It is through the news that we got to know that sixteen bullets had been pumped into Mrs Gandhi. ‘How potent are the bullets used by VIP security personnel?’ he turned to ask his PSO. The PSO informed him that they were very powerful. Rajiv then turned to us and, with great emotion, asked, ‘Did she deserve all these bullets?’ We simply sat there, stunned.

After some time, hoping against hope, I said to Rajiv, ‘The information we have received is that she has been assaulted; they have not yet said that she is dead... We received a wireless message that a helicopter would be waiting for us at the helipad of the thermal power station at Kolaghat, and that would take us to Calcutta... It took us about forty-five minutes to reach Calcutta. As soon as we landed, we were told that an Indian Airlines special plane was waiting for us. We rushed from the helicopter to the plane, which took off around 1 pm... Immediately after take-off, Rajiv went into the cockpit. After some time, he came back and announced, ‘She is dead.’ There was absolute silence. Tears started rolling down my face, and I wept inconsolably, managing to compose myself only after some time and with great effort.

Rajiv was exceptionally calm and displayed total control and fortitude, possibly a trait he had inherited from his mother... It was decided that we should request Rajiv Gandhi to take over as the full-fledged Prime Minister to meet the challenge posed by this extraordinary situation. Somebody suggested that I formally make this request to Rajiv and work out the modalities to be followed. I took Rajiv to the rear of the aircraft and requested him to take over as Prime Minister. His immediate question to me was, ‘Do you think I can manage?’ ‘Yes,’ I told him, ‘we are all there to help you. You will have everyone’s support.”

Our plane landed in Delhi at around 3 pm. and we were received by Cabinet Secretary Krishnaswamy Rao Sahib, along with the Home Secretary and other officials... Krishnaswamy Rao Sahib apprised me of the prevailing situation. He counselled me that I would have to take over as Gulzari Lal Nanda had done in the past. I told him that Rajiv Gandhi would be sworn in, and then I, too, headed to AIIMS...

Finally, many stories have been circulated that I aspired to be the interim Prime Minister. That I had staked claim and had to be persuaded otherwise. And that this created misgivings in Rajiv Gandhi’s mind. These stories are completely false and spiteful. President Zail Singh has pointed out clearly in his memoirs that P.V. Narasimha Rao and I both gladly agreed that his decision to place the mantle of Prime Ministership on Rajiv Gandhi was correct.