Spring, the month of March, the police and the Congress leadership have a connection which has had major political implications in the past, too.
It was 24 years ago, in March, 1991, when the Samajwadi Janta Party (Rashtriya) led by Chandra Shekhar, who was prime minister for four months, suddenly met its end over a matter involving policemen, that too from the neighbouring state of Haryana. The Congress, the largest party in the Lok Sabha at the time, was supporting the SJP(R), a 50-odd member breakaway of the Janata Dal.
On March 2, 1991, two Haryana constables — Prem Singh and Raj Singh — were arrested for ‘snooping’ outside Rajiv Gandhi’s home at 10, Janpath. They confessed to being part of Haryana state CID in plain clothes, and admitted they had been sent to gather information. According to some accounts, they were spotted sipping tea outside the residence.
This triggered a storm. The trouble was apparent in the vote of thanks debate in Parliament, and Rajiv reportedly refused to meet an emissary sent by Chandra Shekhar, or even take calls from him. Chandra Shekhar offered to order a probe and the government claimed this was a routine activity. But that did not placate the Congress leadership. Soon, the Rajiv-led Congress, after first boycotting Parliament, withdrew support from Chandra Shekhar’s government. PM Chandra Shekhar was forced to announce his resignation on March 6, 1991.
Some contemporary accounts claim that it was Ranjit Singh, the estranged brother of the then Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala, who informed Rajiv about the ‘snooping’ having been authorised by the then Haryana home minister Sampat Singh and, by implication, Chautala. It is believed the Congress tried to force Chandra Shekhar to sack Chautala, who was also a senior office-bearer of SJP(R) at the time.
Moreover, at the time, there was a reason to believe there was a security threat to Rajiv from Kashmiri and Sikh militants and also from Tamil groups. Some say that his mother’s assassination be security guards recently was also a reason why snooping policemen were seen as a serious security issue by Rajiv and his advisors. A combination of all these factors triggered a strong reaction to what was termed a “small incident” by many, eventually leading to the departure of the minority government which the Congress itself had helped prop up in the winter.
Elections were declared, not just for Parliament but also for the states of UP, Haryana, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Pondicherry for June, 1991. It was during campaigning the same year that Rajiv was assassinated by LTTE in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu.
The Haryana policemen can be said to have triggered a chain of events with consequences nobody could have predicted. Rajiv’s assassination happened mid-campaign and eventually, the Congress party was re-elected, with P V Narasimha Rao at the helm, controlling both the PM’s Office and the reins of the Congress. Economic liberalisation, the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the formation of splinter groups that broke away from the Congress were some of the many consequences of the time.