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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of  Struggle for Tamil Eelam  > India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Rajiv Gandhi Assassination - the Verdict > Rajiv Gandhi - Arujan Sittampalam Meeting in March 1991 >Who really killed Rajiv Gandhi? - Norman Baker  1992 >  Rajiv Gandhi - the Secret Trial - Nadesan Satyendra, 1992 > Rajiv Gandhi's Assassination: Transnational Connections - Major General  Asfir Karim, 1993 > Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: Highlights of Complex Plot, India Today Report, 1996 > Jain Commission Report on Rajiv Gandhi Assassination 1997 > Prabhu Chawla on Jain Commission Report, 1997 > India's lack on grit on Tamil Tigers led to Rajiv assassination says Jyotindra Nath Dixit, 1997 > Who killed Olof Palme and Rajiv Gandhi?, 1997 > International appeals against verdict in Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Trial, 1998/99 > Accused in Rajiv case not given fair Trial - Law Committee, 1999  > Triumph of Truth � The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination � The Investigation, by D.R.Kaarthikeyan and Radhavinod Raju - Book Review by Sachi Sri Kantha, 2004

India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam

Who Really killed Rajiv Gandhi?
Dr.Norman Baker
in the Illustrated Weekly of India
22 August 1992

See also Rajiv Gandhi - the Secret Trial
and  Amnesty Appeal on Trial Verdict - January 1998

As a student of the history and politics of India, the events following the assassination of the former Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, have been a subject of intense interest to me. This piece provides my views about the conduct of the post assassination investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT).

In my opinion, the investigation by the SIT was flawed from the very beginning. As one looks into statements made by SIT officials, leaks from SIT sources and the general direction which the investigation took, it is rather evident that the SIT had started with the assumption (maybe even the conclusion) that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was responsible for the assassination. Instead of looking for and analysing evidence in order to find who the culprits behind the assassination were, the SIT seems to have been looking for and analysing evidence to prove their assumption that the LTTE was guilty. Even when some pieces of evidence at hand suggested that the LTTE might not have anything to do with the assassination, the SIT tried to force-fit such evidence to support their pre-conceived notion that the LTTE was guilty. Having stated my general observations, let me elaborate on them.

Suspects: the LTTE and who else?

The LTTE was suspected from the very beginning because it had the motive and the means to carry out the assassination. The LTTE's animosity towards Rajiv Gandhi because of his military intervention against it in the Sri Lankan civil war is well known. The LTTE feared that Rajiv might help the Sri Lankan government again in some form or another if he were to come to power in India again. Thus the LTTE had a motive.

It also had many operatives in Tamil Nadu for many years and its expertise with explosives is well known. The LTTE also had motivated volunteers who would sacrifice their lives gladly if they thought that it was in the interest of their cause - the achievement of a homeland for the Sri Lankan Tamils. Thus, the LTTE had the means to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu.

But, because it had the motive and the means, it does not necessarily follow that it was guilty of the crime. Is there anyone else who had the motive and the means to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi?- There may be a few but I will concentrate on just one such suspect - the Sri Lankan government.

One suspect - Sri Lankan Government

The Sri Lankan government under President Premadasa was as anti-Rajiv Gandhi as the LTTE. Premadasa opposed the India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 and the induction of Indian troops into Sri Lanka in 1987 from the very beginning. His presidential election campaign included a pledge to get the Indian troops out of Sri Lanka. His first foreign policy initiative as the newly elected president was to request India to withdraw its troops from Sri Lanka. When Rajiv Gandhi procrastinated, Premadasa did the unexpected and the unthinkable - he secretly supplied large quantities of arms to the Sri Lankan government's long-term enemy, the LTTE. Finally, the Indian troops were withdrawn in 1990 and the new Indian prime minister, V P Singh, pursued a hands-off policy on the Sri Lankan civil war.

Premadasa likened Singh's hands- off policy to Gandhi's activist policy. Premadasa feared the latter's return to power. He feared that Rajiv Gandhi might interfere in the Sri Lankan civil war again, possibly in support of the LTTE, as he and his mother Indira Gandhi did until July 1987. Thus, the Sri Lankan government under President Premadasa had a motive to see that Rajiv Gandhi did not come to power again. Did the Sri Lankan government have the means (the ability) to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu?

The Sri Lankan government might not have had the means to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi directly but it had close relationships with some Sri Lankan Tamil guerrilla groups, namely the EPRLF, the PLOTE and the TELO.

At least two of these groups (PLOTE and TELO) were helping the Sri Lankan army in its civil war with the LTTE. These groups had operatives in Tamil Nadu for many years and thus had the ability to plan and execute the assassination. These groups also had the necessary expertise with explosives. Moreover, these groups are armed militants without a cause. (They had long given up the cause of creating a homeland for the Sri Lankan Tamils.) The history of mercenary operations tells us that such groups are fertile grounds for mercenaries.

In fact, a few years ago PLOTE was involved in an unsuccessful mercenary operation to overthrow the government of the tiny island nation, Maldives. In addition to these Tamil guerrilla groups, it is believed that the Sri Lankan government also had some Tamils in its intelligence service and the Sri Lankan government did not hesitate to use them on Indian soil when necessary.

During the mid-'80s, the LTTE's political advisor, Balasingham, lived in Madras. A Tamil Sri Lankan intelligence operative names Kandaswamy Naidu - a former Sri Lankan government employee - allegedly trued to blow up Balasingham's Madras residence. A case was filed against him in Tamil Nadu but he escaped to Sri Lanka.

Interestingly, Sivarasan, the mastermind of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, was allegedly a former Sri Lankan government employee.

An experienced covert operative - whether a Sri Lankan Tamil guerrilla or a Sri Lankan intelligence operative - could have "persuaded" a suitable young Tamil lady raped by Indian soldiers and thus enraged against Rajiv Gandhi, to act as a suicide-assassin. (The assassin, Dhanu, allegedly told her friend, Nalini, that Indian soldiers had raped her. The fact that Indian soldiers raped some Tamil women has been established beyond any doubt; if Dhanu was a rape victim may never be known for sure.)

Thus the LTTE is not the only organisation with the ability to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu. The Sri Lankan government also had that ability. It also had that ability through its surrogates. Is it not within the realm of possibility that the Sri Lankan government, which dared to provide arms to the LTTE to fight the Indian army in 1989, fearing Indian domination of Sri Lanka, might also dare to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi to prevent him from interfering in Sri Lankan affairs again?

Biased investigation

This writer is not necessarily advocating that the LTTE is innocent and the Sri Lankan government is guilty. This writer is of the opinion that both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government should have been treated as suspects. There is a prima facie case against both in terms of motive, ability and mode of operation.

However, from the very beginning, the investigation was conducted as if the LTTE was the only suspect and the Sri Lankan government was beyond suspicion.

Within weeks of the assassination, a team of SIT officers visited the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and sought the help of the Sri Lankan government, the EPRLF, PLOTE, and TELO in identifying the mastermind of the assassination Sivarasan. (Naturally they said that Sivarasan belonged to their arch-enemy, the LTTE.)

In the meantime, the LTTE volunteered to help the SIT and this help was rebuffed: a clear indication that the SIT was biased against the LTTE vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan government and the other guerrilla groups. This was at a time when there was absolutely no evidence to link the LTTE to the assassination.

Throughout the investigation, while every piece of evidence that could possibly link the LTTE the assassination was painstakingly pursued, other evidence was not given serious attention. One piece of information was that Sivarasan was a former Sri Lanka government employee. Especially in view of the Kandaswamy Naidu episode mentioned earlier, the SIT should have investigated any possible connections between Sivarasan and Sri Lankan intelligence agencies. But this was not done. Also, the question remains unanswered: Why did the Sri Lankan government tell the SIT in May-June 1991 that Sivarasan was an LTTE operative but failed to mention his former employment with them?

The Sri Lankan government distributed Sivarasan's photograph to its offices in eastern Sri Lanka. Why wasn't his past government employment revealed? Was it a case of incompetency or cover-up?

While the SIT was quick to examine the LTTE's bank transactions in European banks to uncover any incriminating financial transactions between the LTTE and foreign governments, it made no such attempt to investigate if the Sri Lankan government had any questionable financial dealings with the EPRLF, PLOTE, TELO or other mercenaries.

Was there a cover-up?

If any evidence linking the Sri Lankan government's involvement in the assassination were to become public, there would surely have been an outcry from the Indian public and the opposition parties for military action against Sri Lanka. Failure to take military action would show the ruling party to be a coward and opposition parties could topple the government. Military action, on the other hand, would bring international condemnation. Thus, the revelation of any evidence suggesting the Sri Lankan government's hand in the assassination would put the Indian government in an unenviable position. Did these considerations enter into the investigation? Did the SIT fear looking in the direction of the Sri Lankan government lest some evidence of the Sri Lankan government's involvement be uncovered? How else can one explain the SIT holding the Sri Lankan government beyond suspicion from the very beginning and seeking its help with the investigation while rebuffing the LTTE's help?

Political pressures and investigative bias

How did the political climate prevailing in Tamil Nadu at the time of and after the assassination affect the investigation? Did it at least indirectly influence the SIT's single- minded, one-track pursuit of the LTTE at the expense of investigating other suspects? The LTTE had become a pawn in Tamil Nadu politics years before the assassination. From the mid-'80s onwards, both the DMK and the AIADMK used the LTTE and the Sri Lankan civil war for selfish political purposes. The more recent, and the most blatant use of the LTTE as a whipping boy in pre-assassination days started some time after the 1989 Tamil Nadu assembly elections. In that three- cornered election, the DMK won and the AIADMK and the Congress lost.

Just a few months after the elections, the AIADMK chief, Jayalalitina Jayaram, wanted the DMK state government dismissed by the central government on one pretence or another so that her party could face the DMK again in an election, "this time with the Congress as her electoral ally. The AIADMK and the Congress demanded that the DMK government be dismissed because the LTTE was creating a law and-order problem in Tamil Nadu and the DMK government was not doing anything about it. In reality, no law-and-order problem existed in Tamil Nadu in 1989 or 1990. Most Indian newspapers did point this out. However, under pressure from the AIADMK and the Congress, the central government dismissed the DMK government. The `LTTE bogeyman' served its purpose for Jayalalitha. Soon elections were called for both the Tamil Nadu state assembly and the Indian parliament.

Since the `LTTE scare tactic served well in getting the DMK government dismissed, the AIADMK- Congress alliance tried to use it again to defeat the DMK in the elections. The LTTE became a whipping boy in the election campaign. It was portrayed as a group of thugs and the DMK was painted as its ally. Of course, the latter was the real target of the attack, with the LTTE simply being the political pawn.

It was in such a political climate that Rajiv was assassinated in Tamil Nadu. Even before the dust from the explosion that killed him settled, some AIADMK and Congress leaders blamed the LTTE without a single piece of evidence to support their statements. They also held their political rival, the DMK, indirectly responsible for the assassination because of its alleged closenessto the LTTE. The night and dayfollowing the assassination, DMK party offices were ransacked and burned. Just before the elections, held less than a month after the assassination, posters calling the DMK the killers of Rajiv Gandhi appeared in Tamil-Nadu. Also displayed in some parts of Tamil Nadu were posters of the DMK chief, MKarunanidhi, pointing a gun at Rajiv Gandhi.

Just days after the assassination, even before the identity or the nationality of the suicide assassin was known, the Tamil Nadu state Congress party chief, V Ramamurthy, claimed that he saw a woman carrying a basket at the meeting site and the bomb was in that basket. He added that the woman was from the LTTE's suicide squad. Everyone now knows that the assassin did not carry a basket but had a garland in her hands. Also, how did Ramamurthy know that the woman he supposedly saw was from the LTTE suicide squad? Was she wearing the LTTE uniform? Surely not.

Ramamurthy was not alone in making such irresponsible statements. The then Indian law minister Subramaniam Swamy, a personal friend of Jayalalitha Jayaram, said in less than 48 hours after the assassination that the LTTE was responsible for the assassination. What was his basis? The Sri Lankan defense minister told him so.

The Sri Lankan army was at war with the LTTE for over a decade, and for the law minister of India to accuse the LTTE publicly on the basis of the Sri Lankan defense minister's say-so was totally irresponsible. The then Indian prime minister Chandra Shekhar also publicly blamed the LTTE but without giving any supporting evidence. The new Indian home minister S B Chavan, under whose jurisdiction the law and order of the nation falls, also publicly blamed the LTTE without providing any evidence. The new Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalitha Jayaram, was another influential politician to blame the LTTE publicly. These accusations were made at a time when no solid evidence linking the LTTE to the assassination had been uncovered.

Such public statements by important government and political leaders do surely have an impact on the conduct of the assassination investigation. Senior officers of the SIT and the CBI are all career law-enforcement officers of the Indian government. Their assignments and promotions depend on the goodwill of the cabinet ministers and senior leaders of the ruling party. So, these officers have to be in the good graces of the ministers and ruling party politicians to get ahead in their careers.

With cabinet ministers and ruling party leaders having stated publicly that the LTTE was guilty, how embarrassing it would be for them if the SIT were to come up with evidence showing the LTTE to be innocent. It would be a pie in their face. This surely would have an impact on the conduct of the investigation. It does not necessarily mean that the SIT officers would do something illegal to please their political bosses. But it is quite possible that SIT officers would concentrate on evidence that suggested an LTTE involvement at the expense of other lines of investigation. The conduct of the investigation, in fact, suggests that it has happened.

Not only the prestige of a few politicians but also the very image of the Indian government was put at risk by public statements by the likes of the then law minister Subramaniam Swamy, the then prime minister Chandra Shekhar and the present home minister S B Chavan.

The words of the home minister, who is responsible for law and order, could be and should be treated as the official position of the Indian government. If the SIT were to find the LTTE innocent, how embarrassing it would be for the Indian government in front of the nations of the world. Also, if the LTTE were to be found innocent, opposition parties would surely demand the resignation of the government. All these considerations put indirect pressure on the investigators to pursue evidence leading to the LTTE at the expense of other leads. It may explain why the SIT was trying to force-fit even seemingly unsupportive evidence to support the "LTTE is guilty" hypothesis.

Was Sivarasan a mercenary?

The SIT had information that Sivarasan smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. This does not fit the profile of an LTTE operative. LTTE militants are prohibited from smoking and drinking. This code of conduct is strictly enforced from the very top to the newest recruit. The fact that Sivarasan smoked and drank would seriously undermine the theory that Sivarasan was an LTTE operative. However, the SIT simply brushed it aside. Was Sivarasan a former LTTE. EPRLF, PLOTE or TELO operative? Did he become a mercenary, using the skills he learned from these groups and the connections he made when he was with these groups?

In fact, there was evidence to suggest that Sivarasan might have been involved in a mercenary operation. According to the SIT, Sivarasan had visited Sweden, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates some months before the assassination. The LTTE had representatives in all these countries.

If Sivarasan was planning the assassination on behalf of the LTTE, there was no reason for him to visit these countries to meet foreign government agencies or collect monies or secure explosives; LTTE networks in these countries are better suited to do these back-up tasks. It is highly unlikely that the LTTE would send Sivarasan to foreign countries for this purpose.

Sivarasan's foreign trips would make sense if he were a mercenary. But the SIT chose to go around this piece of evidence and tried to force-fit it to its 'LTTE is guilty' hypothesis. What was the SIT's analysis?

It concluded that Sivarasan, while planning the assassination for the LTTE, was at the same time on the payroll of (under contract to) an unidentified foreign government without the knowledge of the LTTE.

Is such a scenario plausible? Highly unlikely. The LTTE is a well-disciplined, tightly-knit organisation and it is highly unlikely that an operative assigned for the most sensitive and critical operation in the history of the LTTE (namely the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi) would be able to establish contact with a foreign government and travel to many foreign countries for weeks without the knowledge of the LTTE. It is more likely that Sivarasan was a mercenary than a mercenary and an LTTE operative at the same time. However, the SIT chose to propound the latter theory. There are a few more pieces of evidence that would suggest that Sivarasan was not working for the LTTE. Instead of exploring these to see where they lead, the SIT chose to go on the beaten path towards the LTTE, brushing aside unsupportive evidence.

EPRLF man initially identified as LTTE!

Another seemingly unimportant incident is worth noting. On September 2, 1991, the police arrested a one-legged Sri Lankan Tamil male named Rajaram at the Avaniyapuram refugee camp in Tamil Nadu. He had come from Bangalore just a few days earlier.

Immediately, the SIT declared that he belonged to an LTTE suicide squad and he had links with Sivarasan who had committed suicide in Bangalore on August 20, 1991. Later, it became evident that the one-legged man did not belong to the LTTE but to the rival guerrilla group, the EPRLF.

This incident is indicative of the SIT's rush to link everyone and everything even remotely associated with the assassination to the LTTE. Had the man been unable to prove that he belonged to the EPRLF, a guerrilla group which collaborated with the Indian army during its peace-keeping years (1987-1990) in Sri Lanka, his proclamations of innocence would not have been believed. Such was the 'LTTE phobia' under which the SIT conducted the investigation. Where did the SIT get the idea that this one-legged man belonged to the LTTE's suicide squad?

Confessions obtained in the absence of lawyers and after torture?

Though the LTTE was blamed by politicians and the police from the very beginning, the first concrete evidence that the SIT presented linking the LTTE to the assassination was Murugan's confession; Murugan was allegedly a key player in the assassination. Murugan confessed that the LTTE chief, Velupillai Pirabhakaran, ordered the assassination.

This confession was made when Murugan was under SIT custody. No lawyer was present during the interrogation. In fact, Murugan was not allowed to see a lawyer after his arrest for months. He did not have the counsel of a lawyer before his interrogation or for months after it (in countries like the US, confessions of prisoners without the counsel of a lawyer are not admissible evidence: the court cannot consider such evidence in determining guilt or innocence).

After the very first time he was allowed to see a lawyer. Murugan claimed that he made the 'confession' under torture. Nalini, Padma, Bhagyanathan and Perarivalan (all suspects under SIT custody) also claimed that they were forced to make statements against their will and that those statements were false.

The SIT brushes aside these allegations of 'forced confessions' on the grounds that all these people were presented before a judge periodically and they did not make the charges to the judge.

One should remember that to these prisoners in custody, the judge would seem like part of the government apparatus. They would feel more free and comfortable to discuss their charges of 'forced confessions' with an independent lawyer than with a judge. In fact, Nalini did ask the judge for a lawyer more than once and the judge refused to let her see a lawyer for months. The world may never know for sure if Murugan, Nalini, Padma, Bhawanathan and Perarivalan were tortured in SIT custody. However, it is an established fact that the Indian police and other security forces do torture prisoners occasionally to extract confessions.

Documentary evidence forged?

Two documents in the possession of the SIT are said to provide clinching evidence of the LTTE involvement in the assassination.

One is a letter allegedly written by Peria Santhan, an alleged high-level LTTE operative in Tamil Nadu. This letter was addressed to the LTTE chief and was dated September 7, 1991 (about two weeks after Sivarasan's suicide).

It informs the LTTE chief that Santhan had met Sivarasan in his Bangalore hide-out and ordered him and his associates there to commit suicide. Was this letter really written by Peria Santhan? Or, was it a forgery by someone who wanted to implicate the LTTE? This question deserves serious scrutiny.

Santhan's letter was allegedly taken from an LTTE courier named Irumporai who was on his way to the Tamil Nadu coast to take a boat to Jaffna. At that time, the Tamil Nadu coast was heavily patrolled by Indian security forces and the Palk Straits between Tamil Nadu and Jaffna was patrolled by the Indian navy.

Would the LTTE send an uncoded letter through a courier under these circumstances? This was not some urgent message that had to reach Jaffna. In fact, the message in the letter was 'old news'; everything in the letter was already known to LTTE headquarters in Jaffna. Sivarasan's suicide was broadcast on both the Indian and the Sri Lankan radio, both of which were monitored by the LTTE. If Santhan indeed ordered Sivarasan to commit suicide, he would have done so only according to instructions from LTTE headquarters in Jaffna (assuming that Sivarasan was an LTTE operative who assassinated Rajiv Gandhi under LTTE orders, it would be surprising if he did not have a standing order to commit suicide if he was cornered by the Indian police).

So, with no real message to be sent to Jaffna, would Santhan send an uncoded, written message which clearly and unequivocally links the LTTE to the assassination when everyone knew very well of the tight security on the Tamil Nadu coast? (The routine message could have been transmitted orally through the courier without leaving the 'hard evidence' of the letter.) All these considerations make one pause and think if Santhan's letter was a forgery.

The second letter, dated May 10, 1991, was allegedly written by the assassin Dhanu. The SIT discovered it about three months after the date of the letter. In this letter, addressed to the LTTE chief, Dhanu thanks him for giving her the opportunity to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. Why did the LTTE keep such an incriminating letter in Tamil Nadu for three months, at a time when the police were searching and flushing out all LTTE-safe houses in Tamil Nadu and the nearby states? If they were unable to take it to Jaffna, they would simply have burnt the letter long ago and not have risked its falling into police hands. This again makes one wonder if this letter was also a forgery.

Forgeries to discredit political enemies are not new. When Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister, certain foreign banking documents were forged to implicate the opposition leader V P Singh in illegal business dealings. So the possibility of forged letters being used to implicate the LTTE in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination should not be brushed aside so lightly.

Police and the politicians - an unholy alliance

The newly elected (June 1991) AIADMK government of Tamil Nadu alleged that the previous DMK government, including the former chief minister Karunanidhi, interfered in police investigations and the police officers obliged.

R Nagarajan was the Tamil Nadu state home secretary at that time. Law and order in the state came under his purview. He was arrested on November 21, 1991. It was charged, among other things, that Nagarajan knew of the alleged LTTE plot to murder the EPRLF chief, Padmanabha, in 1990 and assured the murderers that they would not be apprehended. Nagarajan allegedly asked the then DCP (law and order) for Madras and the then DIG of Ramnad (Tamil Nadu) to take it easy in pursuing the murderers, and these senior police officers allegedly obliged.

While Nagarajan denied everything initially, after a few days in police custody, he told the police that the then chief minister, Karunanidhi, asked high-ranking police officers not to evince keen interest in tracing the murderers of Padmanabha. The former DIG for intelligence under the DMK government was suspended in January 1992 for dereliction of duty with respect to that murder.

If even some of the allegations were true, it means that high- ranking police officers protected the murderers from prosecution because their political bosses asked them to do so. Of course, the high-ranking police officers would have needed the cooperation of middle- and lower-level officers in protecting the murderers; it could not be done without their cooperation.

These alleged immoral and illegal activities in the police department during the former DMK government's reign raise an interesting corollary question. If the Tamil Nadu police under the DMK government during 1989 and 1990 had such total disregard for the laws of the land and would protect LTTE murderers to please their then political bosses, can we consider the possibility that the Tamil Nadu police under the AIADMK government during 1991 and 1992 would disregard the laws of the land to implicate the LTTE in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination?

If the DMK chief minister, Karunanidhi, "loved" the LTTE (he denies it), the AIADMK chief minister Jayalalitha "hates" the LTTE and leaves no stones unturned to eradicate it. In such a situation, one has to but wonder if some police officers today might have gone beyond legal bounds to please the present chief minister, Jayalalitha.

While the few top officers under the DMK government no longer hold those positions, many of the middle- and lower-level officers who have obliged their superiors and allegedly let the Padmanabha murderers escape are still in their jobs (this writer is not charging anyone with breaking the law but wonders if anyone did, given the past record of the Tamil Nadu police).

It is with these considerations in mind that one should look with some suspicion on prisoners' confessions and the incriminating letters that link the LTTE to the assassination.

The Verma commission proceedings give some glimpses into the working of the Tamil Nadu police well after the AIADMK came to power in Tamil Nadu. There is a feud between the police and the Congress party organisers of the fateful Sriperumbudur meeting as to who was responsible for the security lapses at the meeting. A Congress party worker, Ranganathan, testified on behalf of the police and blamed the meeting organisers. During the cross-examination, he contradicted his sworn affidavit. Ranganathan further damaged his credibility by admitting that he signed his sworn affidavit without reading it. So the lawyer for the meeting organisers charged that the police had "tutored" the witness.

This raises a question: if the police indeed tutored a witness before the Verma commission, would they also be inclined to tutor witnesses or forge documents in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination investigation? Such questions should not be swept under the carpet.

There are also a few disquieting incidents in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination investigation. The death of a key witness, Shanmugham, when he was under SIT custody was officially cleared as suicide. Quite a few observers have serious doubts about the suicide theory. Available physical evidence seems to suggest murder rather than suicide.

Another incident: there was a dispute between the Bangalore city police department and the Mandya district police department as to who should get the reward for finally locating the ever-evasive Sivarasan. Each gave a different version of how Sivarasan was located. Both versions cannot be true. One of the police departments is fudging the truth.

Central government agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), under whose jurisdiction the SIT operates, have also served the interests of the ruling parties in the past.

The infamous St Kitts bank documents linking the opposition leader V P Singh to illegal business dealings were allegedly forged by one of the central government agencies (they deny it). A number of other misdeeds of these agencies to help the ruling party are discussed in the October 14, 1990 issue of the Illustrated Weekly of India.

Ever since the assassination, spotty reports appeared in the press suggesting possible links between the alleged assassins and some Congress party leaders. Whenever evidence suggesting such links turned up, the SIT brushed it aside as false or unimportant.

SIT brushed aside Congress party links

Within weeks after the assassination, a DMK party newspaper, Murasoli published a report that Sivarasan was related to a Congress leader. No one paid much attention to the report because it came from the DMK which was being indirectly blamed for the assassination. But in February 1992, Murugan, who was still under SIT custody, filed an affidavit stating that Sivarasan and one of his alleged accomplices. Hari Babu, had contact with Tamil Nadu Congress party leaders including the state party president, V Ramamurthy. The SIT simply brushed that affidavit aside as a lie.

Murugan was not the only one to suggest links between Congress leaders and the assassins. Soon after the assassination some newspapers reported that the Congress MP, Maragatham Chandrasekhar, and her daughter Latha Priyakumar (a Congress MLA) might have known Latha Kannan who allowed the assassin Dhanu to stand in the line of people waiting to garland Rajiv Gandhi at the Sriperumbudur meeting. The SIT did not give much credence to it, neither did it investigate this matter seriously.

Many months later, in 1991, a Congress party-worker, Kumudavalli, told the Verma commission that Latha Priyakumar brought Latha Kannan to the Sriperumbudur meeting. Did the SIT know that? Kumudavalli also told the Verma commission that Latha Kannan addressed Subha (an accomplice to the assassination) as "Sister", thus indicating that Latha Kannan knew Subha previously. The questions are: did the SIT know of Kumudavalli's allegations before? If not, why not? If yes, did it investigate the matter? Did the SIT turn a blind eye because a ruling party MP and MLA were involved? (This writer is not necessarily implicating either the MP or the MLA in the assassination. Their interaction with Latha Kannan, if true, could be totally innocent.)

Rajiv-LTTE meeting

Within days of the assassination, the Hindu reported that an LTTE emissary met Rajiv Gandhi earlier in 1991 to re-establish a cordial relationship. The Congress party spokesman, Pranab Mukherjee, denied that such a meeting took place. Later, it became evident that the meeting in fact took place on March 5, 1991, at Rajiv Gandhi's New Delhi residence. This is a critical piece of evidence. If the meeting ended amicably and if the LTTE believed that Rajiv Gandhi would not be hostile to the LTTE, then it would no longer have a motive to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. (If the LTTE's foes were to know of the meeting, they might have a motive to assassinate Rajiv.)

By giving false information that no such meeting took place, the Congress spokesman essentially misled the investigation until the truth emerged from other sources. Why did the Congress party spokesman mislead the investigation? The only one to be adversely affected by the denial is the LTTE. Were the anti-LTTE leaders within the Congress party and its ally, the AIADMK, responsible for the denial?

The Rajiv-LTTE meeting is an important piece of evidence and the gist of the conversation could be useful in assessing the LTTE's motives. The SIT simply brushed it aside as a diversive tactic used by the LTTE. But there is some prima facie evidence to suggest that the Rajiv-LTTE meeting did go well. The very fact that Rajiv Gandhi agreed to meet an LTTE emissary indicates that he had an open mind about the LTTE.

Furthermore, the June 1, 1991 issue of the Illustrated Weekly of India reported that 'intelligence sources, on condition of anonymity, confirm this (the meeting) and are inclined to view that the compromise worked out between Rajiv and the LTTE could have been the cause for the assassination and that international forces who stood to lose by Rajiv becoming prime minister, standing by the LTTE's demand for an independent Tamil Eelam could have been behind the blast (assassination).' Who has more to lose by a rapprochement between Rajiv and the LTTE than the Sri Lankan government?

The verdict

A SIT official was reported as saying in late August that "in the court of world opinion, the LTTE stands connected". Not necessarily so. The LTTE might very well be guilty of the crime. But the euphoria among the ruling political parties (the Congress at the Centre and the AIADMK in the state) to "get the LTTE", the past record of the police, security and intelligence agencies of doing the bidding of the ruling parties even if it amounted to illegalities, the real or perceived bias in the investigation and the court's refusal to grant permission to the suspects in custody to consult a lawyer for many months, all shed a shadow of doubt on the integrity of the investigation.

Even if the LTTE chief is found guilty by an Indian court, there will always be a lingering doubt about whether the LTTE was really guilty of assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. The recent order by Judge Siddick prohibiting the publication of the proceedings of the court is more cause for concern.




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