The narrowest escape

An eyewitness recalls the coincidences that saved Parliament on December 13, 2001

That sunny winter morning, on December 13, 2001, Parliament escaped a terrorist strike by a whisker. That fateful day, as secretary to then vice president Krishan Kant, I was present inside the Rajya Sabha wing and experienced the horror when Parliament and the country stood on the brink. The narrative, however, shall be incomplete without the mention of a series of coincidences which occurred just in time to frustrate the attackers.

The attack was directed at gate 11. This is the gate through which the VP entered his chambers and was somewhat lightly guarded by the unarmed Rajya Sabha watch and ward. There was a set routine for the VP's journey to Rajya Sabha from his residence and back. The terrorists seemed to know all about it, and planned their moves accordingly.

During the Rajya Sabha sessions, the VP arrived at gate 11 at about 10.30 am in his armoured car. Once he proceeded to his chambers, the armed escort and the car moved away and the security personnel would be generally relaxed. The terrorists had noted this. Gate 11, though closed, was now unguarded. On reaching his chambers, the VP briefly reviewed the day's agenda. At 11am, he moved into the adjoining Rajya Sabha. He sat there till lunch time and then returned to his chambers, and onwards to his residence. This too was noted by the terrorists, who planned their attack around 11.15am and 11.45am, when the House would be in full session, and focus on gate 11 spare. These timelines were disrupted that day due to a series of coincidences, which disoriented the terrorists and enabled security personnel to counterattack before they could inflict any harm on Parliament.

The first coincidence was that the House was adjourned within minutes of its commencement. So the VP returned to his chambers at about 11.15am, and his armed escort and the armoured car were positioned right in front of gate 11, waiting for him. The free run the terrorists had hoped for was now over. Then the second coincidence occurred. The VP signalled to me that he was ready to leave for home. Just then, the OSD to the VP told me the deputy speaker wanted a brief meeting with the VP. I accordingly informed him and the VP sat down to wait. Had he not delayed his departure, he would have walked straight into the terrorists. As the gate would have been opened for him, they would have gained access to Parliament, with consequences too ominous even to contemplate.

... contd.

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