a story almost universally headlined King vs Commoner, Vajpayee was the obvious winner. So suggested inexperienced, stupid me, and was proven wrong as I have never been in calling an election. Once again, the only reporter who called even this election right was Tavleen Singh. It taught me the meaning of a wave. How it obliterates logic, reputations, history. This was so evident in this year’s elections as well, the first wave election after 30 years.
It was also, understandably, the richest year possible for old reporters’ tales. Some of stupidity (I just told you one, from Gwalior) and some of quick, life-saving presence of mind. On the first day of Operation Blue Star, for example, when you had still not realised the gravity of the intent with which the clampdown had been carried out.
At least two of us — Brahma Chellaney and I of the three reporters who stayed behind when the army threw out the entire press corps to Delhi — probably thought we were still on some kind of riot/ curfew outing on the morning of June 3, as we found ourselves in the same neighbourhood — we had never met before — along the outer precincts of the walled city. We were both drawn to the striking image of a few young Sikhs, clad in lungis, tied with ropes and being taken away by mostly six-feet-plus jawans of the Guards Regiment.
I had never seen human beings tied up like that before, and definitely not held by army jawans carrying SLRs (self-loading rifles), fingers on the trigger. I was made to regret my impetuosity just then, as a police patrol came rushing as I started taking pictures. In a state under such censorship, this is the last image anybody wanted out. Please see the picture, published on this page, and you’ll know what I mean. Now, I am glad Raghu Rai had left a camera with me (while he left for Calcutta to shoot with Mother Teresa for an American publication) and had taught me to use it too. But it did not feel like such a good idea then, as we spent maybe a couple of hours locked up in a walled city police station.
The station house officer was in a rage. “You so-and-sos (familiar expletives in Punjabi),” he shouted, “our temple is being desecrated, the army has taken over everything, and you are taking pictures. You think this is a (expletive deleted again) tamasha?” He then threatened to shoot us and throw our bodies away and people could later decide who killed us, the army or the militants.
Both of us pleaded with him that we were harmless reporters. He flung my ID card and we soon figured out that while he was upset about the siege of the Temple, the greater provocation was the army encroaching on his turf. I tried calming him down by simply sucking up to him. We were outraged by the army operation too, I said, all Hindus prayed at gurdwaras and so continued…