The Last Tryst with Indira Gandhi

"The sheer magnitude of the honour of commanding an Air Force contingent in the historic funeral of a great national leader had made me blissful of this singular honour."

The Last Tryst with Indira Gandhi

An Introduction

I have been sending out sports dispatches almost everyday for a considerable amount of time that people started missing my sports coverage. Inspired by my wife Gayathri and my daughters Sandhya and Surya I decided that I would write something about history and any happening or episode of mine with any form of history.

As most of you know that I am an Army Brat as my dad was a Doctor Paratrooper and was a Prisoner Of War for three years in Singapore during the Second World War. Also my dad's closest buddy, Brigadier A Rangaraj and Godfather, is a War Hero from the Korean War in the 50's & Commanded 60 Para Field Ambulance as a Doctor Paratrooper. But I will be covering incidents and happenings from my life and mostly my flying career in the Indian Air Force (IAF).  

As you may also know that I have taken part in the Bangladesh 1971 War, as the Junior most MI-4 Helicopter Pilot and also in Op Meghdoot & Op Pawan as Commanding Officer of a Mi-17 Unit. I was also in Western Air Command looking after Transport and Helicopter Operations during Kargil War 1999.

The Story

But today, I will cover a historic event that happened when I was posted amongst the pioneers that formed the Mi-8 Helicopter flight in the Air Force's Prestigious Air HQ Communication or VIP Squadron. I have selected this particular event as my career took a dramatic turn during my tenure, when I became a complete professional pilot with little room for error or complacency.  

My coverage of incidents, episodes, happenings will not be in any chronological fashion but will be regular and hope will carry the interest of all who followed my sports coverage regularly.

I begin my narrative with what transpired in Late October / Early November of 1984. I was posted in the Mi-8  Helicopter Flight of the Prestigious Air HQ  Comn Squadron of the Air Force & was detailed to Fly VVVIP 2, the Prime Minister Of India then Shrimati Indira Gandhi by Mi-8 Helicopter during her 2 Day Visit to Orissa.  

I along with my Co Pilot Sqn Ldr Shiv Krishna and Flt Engineer Sgt Sharma positioned the VVIP Modified Mi-8 at Bhubaneshwer on 26 October and after carrying out the Routine Trial Landings of the 4 Places to be visited by the PM were ready for the final commitment on 30 October.

The final  day of the trip was a beautiful bright day with only a hot and humid day predicted by the met department! I received Mrs. Gandhi as she moved into the Helicopter from the Com Sqn Boeing 737. As always she was dressed elegantly in a Cotton Oriya Sari and smiled as I saluted her as she alighted the Helicopter.  

Ms. Gandhi addressed two political meetings till  we reached Gopalpur where we stopped over for lunch. After lunch & the political meetings we requested Mrs. Gandhi for a photograph with her and the crews of both main and stand by helicopters which she readily agreed to. All of us had already lined up quickly leaving space for in the centre. One of the press photographers clicked this picture above and he took a shot with my Canon camera too.

She seemed to be in high spirits all through the day and finally she shook hands with me as I saluted her at the end of the helicopter trip at Bhubaneshwar. I felt very happy and satisfied that all had gone well with clock work precision as all Com Squadron sorties!

As it was late evening by the time all was over we spent the night at Bhubaneshwer and set course for Palam the next morning. When we landed at Patna for second refuelling we learnt a sensational but unbelievable news that Mrs. Indira Gandhi had been shot and had been taken to the hospital.

The Time was around 10:30 pm. We kept listening to the news on the helicopter radio and by the time we landed at Lucknow the news had come in that Mrs. Indira Gandhi, The Indian Prime Minister had been assassinated by her personal body guards! Our crew were completely shell shocked on hearing this as she had been with us the whole previous day in a very cheerful and smiling mood. That evening we were back at Palam and spent a gloomy night at home listening to the gory details of the shocking assasination.  

Next morning, I was summoned by my Commanding Officer Gp Capt VG Kumar who overwhelmed me with the news that since I had been the Captain of the last helicopter flight of the Late Prime Minister and had been made the contingent Commander of the Air Force for the funeral of Mrs Indira Gandhi.

Funeral of the erstwhile Prime Minister

I was completely bowled over by this honour as I had never commanded any Squadron in any ceremonial parade. I was picked up by an Air Force Gypsy to be taken for rehearsal of the event outside Teen Murthi House the next day. I carried out some practice with The Air Force Representation in the Inter Service Guard and was all set for the actual funeral the next day.  

By mid day, the Funeral Parade started getting assembled outside the huge Teen Murthi Location. The place was swarming with all the highest dignitaries of the country and from 102 countries across the World. The Regal Body of late Mrs Indira Gandhi was placed on the Gun Carriage with full military respect & honour.

I commanded the contingent in slow march initially and then in quick march to reach Shakti Sthal for the last rites, a MI-8 Helicopter flew over the funeral pyre in salute to the great lady. The funeral was telecast live across the world in those days and my relations in Zambia and London spotted me leading the Air Force Squad in the Funeral Parade. I had marched 15 kilometres and as I finally reached home late that evening, only when I took off my shoes did I discover that both Feet had blisters.  

The sheer magnitude of the honour of commanding an Air Force contingent in the historic funeral of a great national leader had made me blissful of this singular honour. Later the last picture taken at Gopalpur with late Mrs Indira Gandhi found a special place In The Squadron museum Roll Of Fame - I had made History by being the last Helicopter Pilot from the Squadron to have flown Mrs Indira Gandhi the day before she was assassinated.

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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