Cop injured in attack on Rajiv Gandhi gets blood-stained cap back on last day of work
On Thursday, Prateep Philip retired as Director General of Police (Training) wearing a blood-stained cap and the same name badge he was wearing 30 years ago when, as an Assistant Superintendent of Police, he was on duty at the Sriperumbudur election meeting where a suicide bomber killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Two days before his retirement, a Chennai court allowed him to retrieve the cap and badge, submitted as material evidence in the case. “It was a defining and refining moment for me,” says Philip, who was only a few feet ahead of Gandhi when a woman suicide bomber detonated a powerful bomb. Philip, who still carries around 100 small pieces of shrapnel in his body, wanted to sign off wearing the cap and badge, both so-called material objects in legal terms. An additional sessions court judge, T Chandrasekaran ordered on September 28 that Philip could take interim custody of his cap and badge. Both are to be returned to the court in a month.
Understanding Philip’s sentimental attachment to his cap and badge, a team of lawyers led by Sanjay Pinto told the court: “This is his last professional wish.” “He almost died in the blast. He was in the line of duty. I said (in the court) that the cap and the badge symbolise blood, sweat and tears.”
Philip was 30 years old when as ASP of Kancheepuram district he was part of the police detail for Gandhi who arrived in Sriperumbudur for an election rally to campaign for Congress candidate Maragatham Chandrasekar. Philip says on May 19, two days before the incident, the organisers led by Chandrasekar changed the venue from secure school ground to an open temple ground. Philip went to see her and objected to the change, citing security concerns, but the organisers were adamant.
Philip had just returned from a two-day break to see his newborn daughter in Kochi (she was born on May 11). His superior and the then SP Mohammed Iqbal asked him if a horoscope had been drawn up for her (a common practice in many parts of the country). “Someone had told the SP that May 21st was not a good day for the VIP according to his horoscope,” recalled Philip referring to the former Prime Minister only as the VIP. “As a man of faith, I said a prayer for our protection.” He remembers Gandhi stepping out of a bullet-proof car wearing a white kurta. “He looked very charismatic. He went towards the people and began shaking hands.”
Philip controlled the crowd using a cane. He also put two women police officers in the women’s section. “It was a kind of a premonition because usually, we don’t bring in women for security because we don’t expect trouble from the women,” Iqbal told Philip to move ahead. They were next to the women’s section and when Philip looked back, a crowd of women surrounded Gandhi. “From the photos we can tell that’s how the assassin got close.”
A suicide bomber, Dhanu akaThenmozhi Rajarathinam, belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) triggered an explosive-laden belt she was wearing as she bent down to touch Gandhi’s feet. Sixteen people, including Gandhi and Dhanu, were killed in the blast and around 45 including Philip and Iqbal were critically injured. The LTTE had orchestrated the assassination to avenge Gandhi’s decision to send the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka.
“I was thrown up in the air,” said Philip. “Initially I was unconscious but because I was young, I gained consciousness in a few minutes and I found there was fire and smoke everywhere. There was blood all over my face. I was beginning to realise there was a blast.”
A young inspector rushed to Philip. “I asked him how the VIP was”. Chacko responded to him in Malayalam “VIP poyi” meaning the PM was dead. Philip lost a lot of blood; he had 20% burns, from his face all the way to his ankles; and he had multiple fractures.
Philip was in the hospital for 28-days. His SP Iqbal died due to internal bleeding. Now that he has retired, Philip said he plans on writing a book-- a survivor’s tale from the assassination that shook the country.