Literature & Fiction | 16 Chapters
An assassin looming large in the capital to kill the Prime Minister of India! Intelligence pointing to a major terrorist attack on the Indian Military! The Hindu Religious Organisation blackmailing the ruling nationalist party! The Principal Secretary to the Indian Prime Minister is caught in the midst of it all. The PM’s life is at stake. The Chinese force the Principal Secretary to toe the line… A sensational Chinese twist to the Pulwama ....
Navrang was happy; it had been quite some time. The knock at his door early in the morning was crisp and thrice with a pause after the second.
“Saheb!! Bula raha hai.” the man at the door said.
No more words were exchanged. It had always been this way. Navrang put on his clothes very quickly, stuffed the half-baked roti into his mouth and briskly walked out and jumped into the jeep. The small,
worn-out jeep wound itself through some empty lanes and pulled up outside a very old government building. Navrang got down. The jeep drove away. The old watchman at the gate did not stop him; he had seen Navrang before. Navrang walked into a very old office. Piles of old files sat on the rather tired tables. There were some wooden chairs around them. It looked as if no one had sat on them for quite a while.
Navrang stood for some time, staring at a thick oak panelled door at the far end of the hall. Some termites were making a row on one side of the table, which he tried to lean on. Just then, the door creaked a bit and opened from the inside. Navrang quickly walked into the room and shut the door from the inside. He sat on an extremely plush sofa. The room had no windows and was fully lit with only a small door at one corner. He had come to the same place many times before, mostly during election time. The small door opened, and a similar face smiled at him.
No one would have really imagined that the man responsible for the inner ring of security for the Prime Minister of India would have a secret office in the
by-lanes of Delhi.
Navrang sat in the only chair opposite the table. “Saab, what’s it now?” he asked expectantly.
The man behind the table was old, somewhere in his sixties, and looked very disciplined, like a retired army general. “It’s tough this time. Not like the elections…waving from a distance. You need to make a quick trip to the border town of Attari. Place a wreath. And come back. There will be no press, no questions asked. It will be very difficult for us to get the PM there. It is a high-security risk.”
Navrang was excited. Doubling as the PM during the election rallies was rather easy and involved waving from a distance in a speeding van. But this time, it would be different.
“Be at home. A jeep will pick you up.” the retired colonel, Colonel Veer, said. He waved off Navrang. No more words were spoken. Every time he met up with the PM’s double, he was stunned by the man’s resemblance to the PM – the walk, the mannerism and even the wave of his hand. With a little bit of extra work, he knew he could pass Navrang off as the PM on the whole trip to the border town
With the new nationalist party in power, there was an upsurge of plots against the PM’s life. There was a distinct shift in the strategy of the terror groups. Bombs ceased to rock the country. All sleeper cells had gone underground. This also made Colonel Veer a little uneasy. The personal enmity of the terror groups against the new PM was beyond bursting a few bombs. They wanted to eliminate him.
Flying the PM to the border town of Attari – a small border town in the state of Punjab, just five kilometres away from Pakistan’s border – was full of risks. A missile attack from well inside the border of Pakistan would break through much of the ground security. But Colonel Veer was very lucky. Though very tough, the new PM was a very practical man. He understood his advice. The Colonel started to put in place a secret plan to make the PM’s double make the bold trip to the border town of Attari.
February 14, 2019, crept in slowly. The PM’s schedule, as soon as he returned from his foreign trip, was busy. He had only five hours rest before he had to take off to the border town of Attari to lay a wreath to the jawans who had been killed in heavy cross border firing. The morale of the forces was down. His presence was a must.
The PM was a man of energy and personally did not mind the travel. But Attari gave him a different challenge. It was a high-risk zone. But as the elected leader with a lot of nationalist rhetoric during the elections, the PM knew that his presence in the high-risk zone would boost the morale of the forces and his image. The PM also knew that the trip depended on the advice of the man in charge of his life – Colonel Veer.
Colonel Veer had been extremely clear that any attempt to travel to Attari would be highly risky, and if there were to be any attempts on his life, it would put the country on a boil. But there was always a way out, and he trusted his Colonel. Catching a hot cup of tea, the PM decided to wait to hear from him.
Colonel Veer personally drove Navrang straight into the PM’s residence that evening. As head of the Inner Security of the PM, Colonel Veer was the most powerful man in charge of the PM’s life. The logbook at the entrance of Lok Kalyan Marg – the PM’s residence – showed an entry of one Mr Kapoor, engineer – civil maintenance. Navrang was escorted deep into the side rooms of the PM’s residence, which was more than a single house. There were three parallel houses that resembled each other. If you happened to do a reconnaissance of the residence and tried to force your way in, you would be totally confused. The PM never slept in the same bed every day.
Colonel Veer walked Navrang through one of the many rooms in the side-lines of the building into a small studio. “You have 20 minutes. Then we leave. All the stuff is inside.” His voice was soft and crisp. He closed the door on Navrang and briskly made his way back to the main entrance of the house, which looked quite empty. The PM had just come back and was not taking in any guests for the day. Colonel Veer made his way to the side table in the corner of the hall. A small blue button started at him. He bent and stared closely at it. The iris recognition system confirmed his identity, and a bell rang inside the PM’s bedroom.
The PM had been expecting the Colonel. He quickly walked down to the hall, which was huge and majestic with at least four large sofas that were completely white. Most of the huge curtains in the hall were spotless white too. The PM was a man who loved serenity and was in his white pyjamas. He waved at the Colonel. There was a sense of bonding between them. The PM knew very well that he owed a lot to the Colonel. They exchanged a few pleasantries, and the Colonel opened the small laptop that he always carried with him. They sat down in front of a small screen. The Colonel switched on the device and a picture formed on the screen. The PM stared at someone who looked exactly like him.
“Is he the same person used during the election rally in Bihar?” the PM asked.
“Yes, sir. He’s perfect. You just need to take complete rest for the next five hours until I give you a call.”
The PM looked at his double with keen interest. There was a big smile on his face. “What’s his name?” he asked the Colonel.
“He’s called Navrang, sir. He hails from the border town of Biduspur in Punjab. No real family, no children. I picked him up just before the election rallies. He was into some stage acting then. We have given him a small shack, and he is safe.”
“Ok, then I will retire,” the PM said and moved away.
Colonel Veer heaved a sigh of relief. He liked the new PM, the energy he brought along and his total acceptance to his recommendations. The next few hours were critical. He quickly walked along the sidelines of the house and reached the studio. Two knocks and a third one; after a pause, the PM’s double opened the door from inside. Colonel Veer was shocked. For a moment, he was about to call him sir. The Colonel himself was a bit discomforted by Navrang’s total resemblance to the PM. “Tie this around your eyes,” he said, giving Navrang a piece of black cloth.
For the first time, Navrang felt a bit nervous. He walked along the pathway the Colonel guided him. He could vaguely sense that he was inside a tunnel. The sounds of his steps echoed. Abruptly, he was asked to stop, and someone guided him to a sort of vehicle; he thought it was a small three-wheeler. The ride appeared long and windy. Finally, the vehicle stopped, and he walked around for another ten minutes.
“You may remove the cloth,” Colonel Veer said.
Navrang slowly rubbed his eyes and was quite stunned. He looked around; it was all barren land. The place seemed to be an old school playground with a dilapidated building in the far corner to his left. Two men in army uniforms were standing 100 metres away, near a helicopter. Colonel Veer waved, and the men started to walk towards the helipad.
“The act is on,” Colonel Veer whispered, and Navrang started to walk.
Both the soldiers froze as soon as the PM neared them. They greeted him with a long salute. They looked proud. The PM smiled and walked towards the helicopter. Colonel Veer observed Navrang. Even his walk had changed; he walked just like the PM, landing on his front toes and pushing his body in front with a lot of energy.
“I will brief you as we fly,” Colonel Veer said.
The military helicopter made very little noise and took off.
It was around 4 PM in the busy town of Shanghai, China. It was customary for the Chief Intelligence Officer in charge of the Asian region to submit his monthly report to the Secretary of the Ministry of State Security of China (MSS), usually through a standard document that they called the Mingkupi, around the 15th of every month. The document mainly covered all the important army movements around the southern borders of China and the political insights into all neighbouring countries that had international and cross border implications. Though headquartered in Beijing, the Secretary of the MSS had a working office in Shanghai. The MSS always gave special importance to the borders surrounding India and Pakistan. Much of the nuisance in Kashmir by Pakistan was orchestrated by the MSS. In fact, the Secretary was very happy with the rising unrest in Kashmir and had earmarked the Chief Intelligence Officer, Vhiangpi, for newer roles.
Every month, the Secretary, in turn, compiled the reports, framed his opinion and briefed the Vice Chairman of the MSS personally. But this time, Vhiangpi had requested a special meeting with the Secretary. It was usually the other way. The Secretary of the MSS was a little concerned. But he knew that Vhiangpi was a high flyer. His observations and insights were revealing and had helped many times in formulating China’s responses down the border. In fact, Vhiangpi himself could pass off as an Indian in the North-eastern parts of India and sustain himself across the border for long periods of time. So detailed was his knowledge of Indian politics and habits.
The meeting was scheduled at a hotel on the evening of February 14, somewhere around the time the Indian PM’s double was on a flight to Attari. The Secretary of the MSS was busy peering into one of his files when the telephone rang. Not many called him on his direct line. He was quick to pick the call.
“Sir, can we meet at Hotel Xianpo? I have booked a table for two at 7 PM.” The Secretary, of course, knew the voice of Vhiangpi very well.
“Will be there,” he said, and the phone was cut. Pushing 63 years, the Secretary of MSS was still a man of action, energy and a keen listener. He went back to his work. But the upcoming meeting with Vhiangpi occupied his mind for some time.
On February 14, the evening headlines in all the news channels in India were in full appreciation of the PM’s visit to Attari. The security had been watertight, and no one was allowed even 100 metres near the PM. The press was already briefed, and they understood the risks the PM was taking for the jawans. Most of the reporters held themselves back and did not try to break the security ring. ‘PM Braves the Bullets’ was the headline in most channels.
Even some of the TV screens in the lobby of Hotel Xianpo were beaming live the Indian feed of the PM’s visit to a large section of Indian tourists. As Vhiangpi walked through the lobby, he turned around to see pictures of the Indian PM with interest. Surely, he must be wearing a bullet vest, he thought as he sank into a round chair beside a table booked under the name of one Mr Cheng. It was 7 PM sharp; he did not have to wait for long. The Secretary of the MSS was right on time and was still very agile for his age. Vhiangpi actually admired his boss.
“What is it?” The Secretary was sharp and to
“It is my cumulative assessment of the Indian situation, sir. Something struck me. India is now in the most vulnerable position, sir. At its weakest.” Vhiangpi said.
The Secretary was quite surprised. He was quite thorough with the latest happenings in India. A strong PM was how the international press had termed the new Indian PM. But he also greatly respected Vhiangpi’s views. Maybe he knew something he did not. “How?” he asked.
“There’s no more national opposition party in India,” Vhiangpi remarked. “They have been decimated. The lady is sick. We have reports that she will not last the winter. The son is already under investigation and too naïve. Almost all the state heads are corrupt. There is no unity at all amongst them.”
“The ruling nationalist party. They have a huge majority, right?” the Secretary enquired.
“Yes, sir. That’s true. But they have weakened themselves. There is no more party in them. They have entrusted all the power to the top man. Adding to this, the whole country is now polarized between the centrist and right policies. The Hindu Religious Organization, called the HRO, the extreme right-wing outfit, is desperately trying to impose their policies. Almost half the country is opposing it. The tension is mounting.” Vhiangpi said.
“But still, the PM is a strong man,” the Secretary said.
“Yes, sir. That’s why they are in the weakest position. The PM is strong. In fact, he has ensured that he is the only strong man and is the only one holding the strings. Imagine, sir, pulling a rubber band. Only one stick holds it. We just need to increase the tension in the band. Increase the strain on the single stick and then….”
“And then….” the Secretary repeated.
“Can I order a drink, sir?” Vhiangpi asked in a relaxed tone.
The Secretary was no fool. He quickly grasped that the Chief Intelligence Officer in charge of the southern borders of China had already made a point, only that he still hadn’t understood what he was actually saying. He stared deep into the eyes of his junior. There was no more expression forthcoming. In fact, Vhiangpi was deeply involved in his drink. The next five minutes of conversation was spent on the internal affairs of the office. The meeting quickly came to an end. The Secretary sat a little longer after Vhiangpi left. Then he called his driver and left for the day.
Later that night, even though the den of debates on Indian news channels had come to an end, the ageing Secretary of MSS China turned in bed. He was quite sleepless. He slowly got up and went to the table at the head of his bed. He took a rubber band and a small matchstick. He propped up the stick and pulled the rubber band. The rubber band stretched. He pulled further. There was great tension on the band. The stick was holding the band together. He pulled more. And the stick broke and fell.
He watched the rubber band sting the back his fingers. “Arghhh,” he said. It was painful. He lay back down. So what was Vhiangpi saying? The Secretary of the MSS, Mr Bingwen, was an ambitious man. He wanted to make his mark. And he slowly understood his junior. It was quite late, at around 11.45 PM. Still, Bingwen picked up his phone and made a call to someone deep inside the city of Shanghai.
The Head of Local Intelligence of the capital city of Delhi was very puzzled when one of his informers called him on the phone. Almost on a daily basis, some of his key informants kept him updated on unusual movements inside Delhi. But this call was different.
“Sir, I’m somewhat sure. This is the second time I’m seeing this man. There’s something about him. He entered the PM’s house. It was very difficult to spot him. Actually, it looked like he went inside in a jeep.” the informer said.
“Where else have you seen him?” the officer asked.
“Actually sir, it’s sort of puzzling. I think I’ve seen him in a settlement area, where there are only a few huts and some shacks with lots of wires. I can’t remember much. But there is something about him, sir.”
“Ok, Charlie. Chai peeyo. Try to track this guy and come back.” the officer said. He felt a bit silly about this tip-off. He held back a small smile as he put his mobile into his pocket. The main problem with having many informers was that they were not well-trained. Someone from the shacks entering the high-security cordon of the PM – the very thought amused him. He went around to his jeep and drove straight to his office.
The call had been short. Bingwen did not elaborate on the reason for it. He just summoned the Head of the Executional Arm of the MSS, Siann Ping, for a quick chat. Siann Ping was the man in charge of MSS’ operations and was more commonly called the surgeon. He was the surgeon who ran operations on the ground post the intelligence inputs from the various intelligence officers, such as Vhiangpi and others. Kidnapping, assassinations, killing, inciting protests, torturing – the list was long. Orders for Siann Ping only came from the Secretary. But that was not exactly the hierarchy. Someone else also ordered the surgeon. Not even the Secretary knew who it was. Many times, there wasn’t much time to take orders as the surgeon worked deep inside alien territory and reacted to developments swiftly.
Very early in the morning of February 15, at around 8 AM, Siann Ping found himself staring at the face of the very keen, shrewd man running the MSS operations. He admired the energy of the Secretary.
“Very early, sir,” Siann poked.
“Oh, yes. It was urgent.” Bingwen replied. “Further, we are likely not to be disturbed for some time. There is a total mess in Pakistan. The powers are happy. You’ve earned a promotion, Siann.”
“Thank you, sir. Your able guidance.” Siann muttered.
Bingwen continued. “There’s considerable interest in our southern border – our old friend, India. There are glimpses that India is moving forward, even though it’s just marginally. Some of their economic campaigns are not in our interests. But we are not very concerned with that. We’re more concerned with the political stability in the region as that leads to reform and growth. Any inputs, Siann?”
“Yes, oh yes. We’ve been tracking India more closely ever since the new regime came to power.” Siann replied. “Our intelligence observes that India is now like a stretched rubber band.”
Bingwen was shocked. This was the second time someone in the intelligence team had made the same observation. “Continue,” he said after observing that Siann had paused after seeing his expression.