Intruders in Parliament

On the morning of December 13, two men entered Parliament and sprayed gas from canisters when the Lok Sabha was in session. Two others stood outside, raising slogans, and spraying gas from similar canisters. Sobhana K. Nair reports on the four people involved and their motivations in causing the worst security breach in recent times

Updated - December 16, 2023 11:55 am IST

Published - December 16, 2023 03:52 am IST

Police personnel detain a man spraying gas from a canister outside Parliament, in New Delhi.

Police personnel detain a man spraying gas from a canister outside Parliament, in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

On December 13, at 11 a.m, the proceedings in the Lok Sabha began on a sombre note with Speaker Om Birla recalling the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament. As members stood up in silence to pay tribute to the nine people who lost their lives that day, Birla said, “On this occasion, we reiterate our resolve to confront terrorism firmly. And reaffirm the oath taken to protect the unity, integrity, and sovereignty of our nation.”

About half an hour later, two men — Manoranjan D., 34, an unemployed computer science engineer from Mysuru, Karnataka, and Sagar Sharma, 24, an e-rickshaw driver from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh — entered the premises as “visitors”. As Zero Hour, when matters of urgent public importance are discussed, was drawing to an end and members were packing up their belongings, the two men jumped down from the gallery, startling parliamentarians and catching the security, manned by the Delhi Police, off guard. Manoranjan whipped out a canister and sprayed yellow gas into the air. The incident, which took place on the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attack on the old Parliament building, is the most audacious security breach that Parliament has seen since.

Canisters in shoes

Hours earlier, Manoranjan and Sagar, along with Neelam Verma, 35, a government job aspirant from Jind district in Haryana, and Amol Shinde, 24, an Army aspirant from Latur in Maharashtra, boarded the metro from Gurugram, more than 30 kilometres from Parliament House. They had arrived in New Delhi on December 10 and were staying with their friend, Vishal alias Vicky Sharma, 45, an autorickshaw driver, in Gurugram.

At 9 a.m., Manoranjan and Sagar left Neelam and Amol at the India Gate lawns and proceeded to pick up their Parliament pass from the residence of BJP MP from Mysuru, Prathap Simha. An hour and a half later, they entered Parliament. According to the time stamp on their visitor’s pass, they were allowed inside the precincts for only 45 minutes, until 12:15 p.m. According to the Delhi Police, Manoranjan had visited the new Parliament on September 18 during the special session. He probably knew that the time limit is not strictly imposed.

The two of them cleared three layers of security — the first at the entrance to Parliament and second and third inside the building — which includes going through metal detectors and being frisked aggressively. Manoranjan also knew that the security personnel did not check visitors’ shoes. This is why a few days earlier, Sagar bought shoes with thick soles and made a cavity in them, while Amol bought plastic colour canisters to stuff into the shoes. According to the first information report (FIR) filed by the Delhi Police, Sagar stuffed one in the sole of his left foot and Manoranjan stuffed one in the sole of his right. As expected, the canisters went undetected.

Below the visitors’ gallery, the BJP MP from Malda North (West Bengal), Khagen Murmu, was making a pitch for an airport at his constituency. But since the Lok Sabha was expected to break for lunch shortly, few were paying attention. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had left, and half a dozen Union Ministers remained seated.

As the security staff asked the visitors to leave, Sagar suddenly swung his legs over the railing and jumped onto the floor of the house. He landed close to the seat of the BJP MP from Mangaldoi (Assam), Dilip Saikia. The MP first thought that the visitor had accidentally fallen and rushed to check if he was hurt. “As I went closer to him, I saw him take something out of his shoes,” Saikia recalled later. Leaping over tables and dodging bewildered MPs who were trying to catch him, Sagar charged towards the presiding officer’s table. Finally, Nagaur (Rajasthan) MP Hanuman Beniwal caught him and, along with others, rained blows on him. Beniwal told The Hindu later that Sagar pleaded with the MPs to spare him. “He said he was there only to protest,” Beniwal said.

During this melee, Manorajan jumped too and landed softly on the floor. As he went undetected for a few seconds, Manoranjan opened his canister and sprayed gas. The Congress MP from Amritsar (Punjab), Gurjeet Singh Aujla, tried to snatch the canister, but Manoranjan, despite being nearly a foot shorter than the 6-feet tall MP, fought back, said Aujla. The MP finally managed to prise it from him. He gave the canister to the security staff, who in panic threw it into the bathroom from where the Delhi Police retrieved it.

At the same time, outside the premises of Parliament, Amol and Neelam opened similar canisters and raised slogans including “Tanashahi nahi chalegi (Dictatorship will not be tolerated),” “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” and “Jai Bhim, jai Bharat.”

The police arrested all the four intruders and detained Vicky Sharma for questioning. Vicky’s friend, Lalit Jha, a tutor, who allegedly possessed all the suspects’ government IDs and mobile phones, later surrendered to the Delhi Police.

The police also recovered four used and one unused canister and two partly torn pamphlets from Neelam and Amol. One poster featuring a picture of a fist in the tricolor read ‘Jai Hind’ in English and also carried a slogan in Hindi. The second had a slogan in English on the Manipur conflict. The suspects told the police that they shared “collective responsibility” for the breach. They wanted to make themselves heard and catch the attention of the government, they said.

Police personnel detain a woman protesting outside Parliament.

Police personnel detain a woman protesting outside Parliament. | Photo Credit: PTI

Fans of Bhagat Singh

The four intruders were all part of a Facebook page called the Bhagat Singh Fan Club. “On the page they would voice their opinions about current affairs and post grievances against the policies of the government,” a senior officer said.

It was perhaps because of their admiration for Bhagat Singh that they decided to copy the April 8, 1929 attack on the central assembly or the council house that sat in the old Parliament building. On that day, according to the biography of the then presiding officer of the Assembly, by G.I. Patel, titled Vithalbhai Patel: Life and Times, the public galleries were full. People had come to hear Vithalbhai’s ruling on the Public Safety Bill, a legislation passed to curb the activities of communists and socialists.

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The Bill allowed the government to deport “undesirable and subversive foreigners.” Vithalbhai’s opposition to it was known and the British government expected an adversarial ruling. “Hardly had Vithalbhai opened his lips when a terrific sound resounding and reverberating the entire Assembly sector stupefied the expectant audience,” G.I. Patel wrote. Bhagat Singh and his comrade Batukeshwar Dutt threw bombs from the public gallery followed by red pamphlets that read, “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear, with these immortal words uttered on a similar occasion by Valiant, a French anarchist martyr, do we strongly justify this action of ours.” But none of the members hit the revolutionaries. Instead, they handed the two men to the police peacefully.

Sagar Sharma, one of the accused persons, being produced at the Patiala House Court, in New Delhi.

Sagar Sharma, one of the accused persons, being produced at the Patiala House Court, in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

As per the FIR, the men have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal code including criminal conspiracy, trespass, provoking a riot, obstructing a public servant in the discharge of functions, and destruction of evidence, and Sections 16 and 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967. The FIR says, “The accused persons have inspired to overawe the public functionaries from discharging their duties, during Parliament session by using criminal force.”

The four intruders

Meanwhile, the families of the accused are trying to come to terms with their upended lives. Sagar’s parents Roshan Lal and Rani Sharma live in a two-room tenement in Lucknow’s Ramnagar, a lower middle class colony. They said Sagar was forced to stop studying after higher secondary due to the family’s financial difficulties, and now drives an e-rickshaw. Sagar left home on December 10 saying that he was going to attend a protest, but didn’t reveal any other details, they said.

“He was not like this, some people disturbed him,” said Roshan Lal, a carpenter. To his mind, nothing else explains the events of December 13. The couple has found old diaries belonging to Sagar, which they have handed to the police. In one of the entries, in February 2021, Sagar wrote, “The strongest person in the world is not the one who knows how to snatch, but the one who has the courage to relinquish worldly comforts.” In another entry dated June 13, 2015, he wrote in Hindi, “I have pledged my life to the country... to free the country from slave mentality, I have done many an audacious work.” His social media account is full of quotes by Che Guevara and Bhagat Singh, but there is no mention of any affiliation to any political party.

Neelam goes by the name ‘Neelam Azad’ on X. Her photo collection on social media shows that she was part of the farmer’s agitation as well as the women wrestlers’ protest in Delhi. Ramher Budain, secretary of the Khera Khap, said, “She would talk about unemployment. She always supported issues plaguing the poor and farmers.”

Neelam’s family, who belong to an Other Backward Classes community, live in Ghaso Khurd village, in Haryana’s Jind district. Her father runs a sweetmeat shop and her brothers are milkmen.

Neelam is well educated: she holds an M.Phil in Sanskrit and, according to villagers, had cracked the Haryana Teachers Eligibility Test seven years ago. She was a civil services aspirant. Five months ago, her family, who are self-confessed supporters of the BJP, sent her to Hisar to take another shot at the exam.

Hours before the incident in Parliament, Neelam called her mother Saraswati Devi. She did not tell her mother that she had been in Delhi for three days. “She would often say that it was better to die as she could not find a job despite having studied so much,” Saraswati said.

Neelam’s younger brother, Ram Niwas, 28, said that the family had voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they believed in his leadership. He maintained that he was proud of his sister. “The government has failed to keep its promise on solving unemployment. We will support her till the end. Our respect for her has increased several folds after what she did,” said Ram Niwas.

Farmers, Khap leaders, and social activists held a panchayat meeting in the village seeking Neelam’s immediate release and withdrawal of charges under the UAPA.

In Amol’s hometown Zari, in Latur’s Nilanga Tehsil, people are stunned by his daring act. Amol’s parents Dhanraj and Kesharbai, who belong to a Scheduled Caste and are farm workers, have not stopped crying about the arrest of their youngest son. “He used to keep saying that the [COVID-19 induced] lockdown had killed his chances of getting into the Army as he had already crossed the age limit. Since then, he has been trying to clear the police recruitment exam,” said Dhanraj, a farm worker who is also a priest at a local temple. On December 10, Amol left home after telling his parents that he is going to Delhi for a recruitment rally.

D. Manoranjan’s parents live in Mysuru. Devaraje Gowda believes that his son should be “hanged if he has done anything wrong” but insists that Manoranjan has a “heart of gold.”

Manoranjan’s parents shifted from Hassan district to Mysuru about 15 years ago for the children’s education. After studying at Marimallappa High School and St Joseph’s College in Mysuru, Manorajan enrolled for a course in Computer Science Engineering at the Bangalore Institute of Technology, which he got through recommendation of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. On completing the course in 2013-14, Manoranjan helped his father in the sheep breeding and poultry business. On December 10, when he left home, he bid goodbye to his parents, his sister, and his newborn nephew. Two days before the incident, he called to speak to his mother.

Also read | House panel on security defunct for five years, Opposition MPs worried

Devaraje said that his son enjoyed a good rapport with Simha. “We are all his voters. Pratap Simha also hails from Hassan district. We had helped him win when he came to Mysuru to contest elections,” he said.

Devaraje said that his son was a voracious reader and was interested mostly in books. “He read everything, from Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare to Chanakya’s Arthashastra and books by Jiddu Krishnamurthy. He read books by Plato and Aristotle,” he said.

Security breach

The incident has raised concerns about security in Parliament. While access control such as frisking and scanning baggage is the responsibility of the Delhi Police, the Parliament Duty Group, an armed component of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), is deployed in case an armed intervention is required. The Parliament Security Service, a specialised department tasked with safeguarding the complex, is now under scrutiny.

However, Parliament does not have high technology screens to detect what people carry in their shoes, a senior police officer said.

The Union Home Ministry has constituted a committee headed by acting CRPF Director General Anisha Dayal Singh to probe the lapses that led to the security breach. The committee is expected to submit its report in 15 days. Meanwhile, a top source in the security establishment said that they were also “investigating whether there is a larger conspiracy behind all this.”

For Kesharbai, Amol’s mother, the irony of the situation does not escape her. Her son, who is now in jail, wanted to get into the Army “at any cost,” she said. “His only wish was to serve his country.”

With inputs from Vijaita Singh, Alisha Dutta, Shoumojit Banerjee, Laiqh A. Khan, Mayank Kumar & Ashok Kumar

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