How long would we continue punishing mere accessories to Rajiv’s murder?

By- Faraz Ahmad

(Asian Independent)- Thirty years ago former Prime Minister and the then Congress president Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Sri Lankan woman carrying explosives under her Salwar Kameez dress at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu around 10.30 pm.

The recently elected chief minister of Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin, leading the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) has written to the President of India Ramnath Kovind demanding immediate release of seven persons incarcerat4ed for last thirty years for Rajiv’s assassination, namely S Nalini, Murugan, Santhan, A G Perarivalan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas and P Ravichandran convicted for their involvement in the said assassination. Political parties and opinions are sharply divided and polarised in Tamil Nadu along adversarial lines with no agreement on almost any major current issue, be they allies of the Congress party led by Rajiv’s widow Sonia Gandhi or now to the ruling BJP at the Centre. But the one issue on which all of them are united and agreed upon, is their desire to see the release of these seven hapless individuals, who had a peripheral role, if at all, in the assassination of the former Prime Minister, even going by the charges levelled by the CBI in its charge-sheet.

I support this demand too I am convinced after thorough study that the entire planning and execution to kill Rajiv was restricted to Sivarasan and his two women accomplices. First the woman who bombed herself to kill Rajiv, whom we call Dhanu for convenience sake and the other, her companion Subha, also no one knows her real name or identity and of course those who gave the contract to Sivarasan. Meanwhile Dr Subramaniam Swamy, who also happens to hail from Tamil Nadu, has opposed this appeal. But Dr Swamy being a proud Brahmin has always been at loggerheads with Dravidian forces in Tamil Nadu. Moreover, there are those, once close to Dr Swamy, who have questioned his role in the conspiracy. To acquit himself of the charge Dr Swamy wrote a book not providing any evidence to disprove the charge. Instead, he hurled charges at others.

I believe that those who ought to have been probed and punished for their involvement overt or covert in enabling killer ‘Dhanu’ reach upto Rajiv to kill him (to date we have no evidence to establish her real identity) have been happily let off without so much as being questioned. A few whom the CBI, investigating that heinous crime, wilfully and deliberately overlooked were former Congress leader Margatham Chandrasekhar contesting Lok Sabha elections as the Congress candidate from that constituency; Margatham’s daughter Lata Priyakumar, who was also contesting the assembly elections from one of the assembly segments of this Lok Sabha constituency; R K Raghavan, the then I G of Tamil Nadu Police who turned his back and walked away, (by his own admission in his affidavit submitted to the J S Verma Commission) and who also tampered with crucial photographic evidence; or N K Singh, the then Joint Secretary (Police) in the Union Home ministry who was responsible for denying adequate security to Rajiv, even when Rajiv faced Z category threats, assessed by the Home ministry. Rajiv was accompanied by a single unarmed Delhi Police Inspector Mr Pradeep Kumar Gupta for proximate security who died with the Congress president. Instead of being questioned and penalised both Raghavan and Singh in fact have enjoyed plum postings and positions in the Indian establishment, whoever may have ruled in Delhi even to date nearly two decades after retirement from government service.

That is because the official narrative about the conspiracy theory behind Rajiv’s assassination has remained unchanged, though without any credible evidence. The Verma Commission of inquiry appointed by the then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar with a brief to ascertain security lapses if any, causing Rajiv’s death, turned a blind eye to so many, in your face, security lapses which enabled the assassinators succeed in their mission, evidently for no other reason but to save Chandra Shekhar and his four-month long government. In the process, Justice Verma, considered as one of the most upright judges, virtually acquitted N K Singh, R K Raghavan and others responsible for wilful negligence in providing fool proof security to Rajiv, despite repeated reminders to the Government by P Chidambaram, a Minister of State for Home in Rajiv’s council of ministers, expressing fear of a terror attack on Rajiv.

The Jain Commission to probe the conspiracy angle remained mired in controversies with court cases filed to put spokes in its progress and thus obstructing its assigned task. In 1998-99 under the premiership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Parliament took up the Jain Commission report together with the Action Taken Report (ATR) of the government. The government then set up a CBI-led Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) to probe further the charges levelled by the Jain Commission implicating several top men including the then well-known godman Chandraswamy with proximity to successive prime ministers, ministers and bureaucrats. The MDMA exists to date at the expense of Indian tax payer but has not filed a single word of report, citing some vague stay order by some sessions level court for over two decades. We neither know nor are allowed to ask what work if any they have done in all these 21 years. It implies that even 30 years after Rajiv’s death there must be enough explosive material pointing fingers not at LTTE but those within the country whom even this right wing establishment seeks to protect. Who could these be? It also needs some explanation how come Nandu Singh and Raghava Raghavan are the apple of successive regimes. It surely is not competence, proven by their intentional or unintentional involvement in Rajiv Gandhi assassination. Then what is it that endears them to successive regimes?

What are the compulsions and whose interests were served that the two officers whose wilful negligence in this case has not only gone unpunished but even rewarded, with both enjoying eminence to this day? The only logical reason appears to be that once the truth comes out (which may never happen) the entire thesis of LTTE involvement in Rajiv Gandhi assassination might have to be debunked and those who keep harping on LTTE role may have to face the music, while the needle of suspicion may point closer home. The establishment may be unwilling to admit that but frankly speaking the official narrative of LTTE killing Rajiv is so bogus and fallacious that any right-thinking person would dismiss it out of hand (Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: An Inside Job?)

The entire premise was built on the thesis, extended by the CBI then that Rajiv led Congress was thunderously rushing to power in the 1991 general elections and LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, fearing that Rajiv on return would send back the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka to liquidate the LTTE and Prabhakaran, conspired to get him killed. This is in fact the version of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), as against that of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), as the then Law and Justice Minister Dr Subramaniam Swamy admitted in his book on Rajiv Gandhi assassination. that while in the first cabinet meeting held early morning on May 22, he promptly announced that LTTE was behind Rajiv’s assassination, the R&AW chief immediately disputed this and ruled out LTTE involvement.

That apart, returning to the reasoning extended by the CBI and accepted by successive courts as well as the mainstream media, was that LTTE chief Prabhkaran was terrified of the prospect of Rajiv Gandhi returning to power and sending back the IPKF to liquidate him. So, in his desperation to rule out such a possibility, he hatched this conspiracy and assigned the task to a trusted lieutenant Sivarasan. Any one having even a rudimentary understanding of international affairs knows that Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation and India could never send its troops to Sri Lanka, except at the invitation of Sri Lanka, Rajiv Gandhi or no Rajiv Gandhi. In 1987 the then Sri Lankan president J Jayawardene had urged Rajiv to send his troops to cool down the rising temperature of the LTTE. And Rajiv himself was forced by Jayawardene’s successor Premadasa to withdraw the Indian troops, even before he went out of power in 1990.

So even if Rajiv wanted, he could never send his troops to Sri Lanka and Prabhakran being aware of all these nuances knew this too well to fear or imagine the return of Indian troops to Sri Lanka. So that argument holds no water. Second, the LTTE enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the DMK government in Tamil Nadu and therefore it doesn’t require some genius to imagine that the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi would create such hostility against Prabhakaran and the LTTE as to shut the doors of this sanctuary for Prabhakaran and his men forever. That’s exactly what happened eventually. The CBI stated that Sivarasan had with him a video recorder and would listen to TV news every day and despatch these videos to Prabhakaran in Jaffna regularly. While we have no evidence that this was actually happening, but assuming this was, it means that Prabhakaran was keeping a keen eye on political developments in India during the 1991 mid term general elections. Even without this he must be keeping a watch. It would have been in his interest to ensure the return of DMK-V P Singh to Delhi. So, he would have had a stake in the return of V P Singh government. Why would he want to jeopardise the prospect of DMK/V P Singh returning to power, which did happen finally, consequent upon Rajiv’s assassination? Any body with a little understanding of Indian politics and Tamil Nadu would have estimated that killing Rajiv would have the reverse effect which it did. In that election while V P Singh’s Janata Dal-National Front was badly mauled post Rajiv assassination, DMK was wiped out in Tamil Nadu which was going for both Lok Sabha and state assembly polls. Prabhakaran had lived off and on in Tamil Nadu so often and interacted so frequently with Tamil Nadu leaders and journalists that there is no way he did not understand the adverse consequences of killing Rajiv in Tamil Nadu of all the places.

I have worked as a crime reporter in three major cities of the country in the Indian Express, Mumbai (then Bombay), Chandigarh during the height of Punjab militancy and Delhi. I earned some degree of respect from the police officers in all three cities, for only one reason. I never accepted the police version on its face value and always tended to probe the story behind it, rarely with any success though. In the process I did lose in getting exclusives or shall we say police plants which take the reporters to great heights and earn the endearments of the editors. The police version is that Sivarasan was despatched by Prabhakaran to execute the assassination and for that he was given a free hand to plan and organise the entire act. Sure, enough Sivarasan had joined the LTTE. But when and what was his background? That’s when the version of the police needed to be questioned which none of our great editors cared to do. Sivarasan was originally from TELO, even his father was a supporter of the TELO. In fact, the people of his town were largely averse to the LTTE for several reasons not necessary to mention here, but which is there on record. The LTTE and TELO were competing forces in which the LTTE wiped out TELO. Only after that Sivarasan joined the LTTE or perhaps made a show of joining it while working on the sly for others. One thing is on record, that he was an employee of the Sri Lanka electricity department and thus also had government connections. Premadasa was then the Sri Lankan president and while he did come together with Prabhakran to oust IPKF from Sri Lanka he was no less inimical to Rajiv than Prabhakran. Besides if Rajiv was assassinated by Tamil militants, perceived to be LTTE it would be killing two birds with one stroke, which did happen eventually. No one cared to follow that lead even though it was so obvious.

Third, Sivarasan came by boat to Chennai along with a couple of LTTE men in June, 1990 and killed the entire Politburo of EPRLF including their leader Padmanabha living secretly in Chennai. After killing them in indiscriminate firing, the four men hijacked a Maruti van and drove to the coast some 60 kilometres away hid till late night. Then took their motor boat and sailed back to Jaffna. But after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination from where the coast was a mere walking distance and the police was too stunned to notice any escape, they could easily take the boat back to Jaffna. They didn’t do that. They went back to Chennai, taking a lift in an auto and after reaching their temporary quarters, slept peacefully. The next day too they did not stir. Then the third day when the newspapers carried Dhanu’s photo they decided to move out and still they made no attempt to sail back to Jaffna by sea. They went to Tirupati even though the LTTE was an atheist organisation and Prabhakaran did not approve of his men breaking party discipline, consuming alcohol, womanising etc.

Eventually instead of trying to sail away from Chennai/Tamil Nadu long coast back to Jaffna Sivarasan was moving in the direction of Delhi. One of his men had come and even rented a house in South Delhi’s Moti Bagh area. In this effort Sivarasan succeeded reaching Bangalore undetected when one of his confidants betrayed him and reported to the police. Logically then it means from day one Sivarasan was avoiding going back to the safe haven of Jaffna which remained out of bound for the Indian security forces till the LTTE was liquidated and Prabhakran was killed by Sri Lankan forces. Why? On the other hand, he was trying to reach Delhi?

The MDMA and the CBI have not disclosed to date what, if at all they discovered anything in all these years. But till Chandraswamy died a couple of years back they kept his passport and won’t allow him to travel abroad pleading before the court that he was being probed for involvement in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Despite that Chandraswamy was not arrested or jailed even for a day.

On the other hand, these seven men and women who had, if at all, a very tertiary role. For instance the charge against one of them was he bought a 9 volt battery cell on Sivarasan’s orders. Nalini for instance did not know till the date of the assassination that they were planning to go and kill Rajiv Gandhi. Nor did poor Haribabu, the photographer who died on the spot, had he known of the actual conspiracy, might have maintained a safe distance from Rajiv like R K Raghavan and Margatham Chandrasekhar and her son and daughter did, though they were the main organisers and the daughter was also contesting the assembly seat.

None of this is unknown. Yet the great stalwarts of journalism, many of whom have personally interacted with Prabhakran, though much before that assassination, are willing to question the IB plant.