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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
Rajiv Gandhi Assassination - The Verdict
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was wrong...
The assassination of ex Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 was wrong. It was wrong not because ex Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was innocent of responsibility for the war crimes committed by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Tamil Eelam. The assassination of ex Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was wrong, because it was wrong to punish without charge and without a fair trial according to law.
Rajiv Gandhi was not a combatant in an armed conflict. At the time of his assassination, he was the leader of a political party campaigning at a general election. And, the IPKF itself had withdrawn from Tamil Eelam by early 1990. India and the Tamil Eelam were not war - at least, not a declared war. Rajiv Gandhi's assassination violated not only the laws of India but also the laws of war which protect civilians.
Having said that, it remains necessary to examine Rajiv's conduct in relation to the war that was unleashed in Tamil Eelam on 10 October 1987...
Having said that, it remains necessary to examine the conduct of ex Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in relation to the war that was unleashed in Tamil Eelam on 10 October 1987. It was a war whose very purpose had been called in question by those who helped to shape India's foreign policy:
It was a 'dastardly business'. The Indo Sri Lanka Agreement was signed on 29 July 1987. Velupillai Pirabaharan, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (who were recognised as 'combatants' by the Accord and who had emerged as the leaders of the Tamil national struggle) declared at Suthumalai on 4 August 1987:
The political reality was that the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement was not directed to securing the rights of the Tamil people.
Sri Lanka President Jayawardene told a Voice of America correspondent in an interview reported in the Asian Weekly, New Life of 13 November 1987, that the Voice of America had become a 'voice of a problem' between India and Sri Lanka because India feared that VOA transmitting facilities in the island were being used for military purposes.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi admitted as much in the Indian Lower House in early November 1987:
And, the exchange of letters which accompanied the signing the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement ensured that "Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India's interests", and that "Sri Lanka's agreement with foreign broadcasting organisations will be reviewed."
Thileepan's fast and Rajiv Gandhi's decision to send Kumarappa and Pulendran to Colombo...
On 15 September 1987, the LTTE leader of the political wing in Jaffna, Thileepan, commenced a fast unto death in front of Nallur Murugan Temple to protest against
Thileepan died on the 26th of September 1987. Though there was widespread grief, Theelepan's funeral was a peaceful day of mourning and the LTTE moved in decisively to curb any kind of violence. But, then on 3 October 1987, two LTTE leaders, Kumarappa and Pulendran along with 12 others were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy and held in the Army camp at Pallali in Tamil Eelam.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, mindful perhaps of the importance of the Indo Sri Lanka Accord to India's 'important security concerns', chose to accede to the request of the Sri Lanka government to transfer the arrested LTTE leaders to Colombo. It was a political decision which contravened Article 2.11 of the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Agreement which article provided:
The LTTE leaders swallowed cyanide and killed themselves, rather than allow themselves to be taken to Colombo in the custody of the Sri Lanka security forces. Many may take the view that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's action resulted not only in the death of Kumarappa and Pulendran, but was also the immediate cause of the eruption of the conflict between the IPKF and the LTTE.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi chose to strike an opportunistic alliance with President J.R.Jayawardene's Sri Lanka - an alliance directed to further India's strategic interests. Rajiv Gandhi failed to adopt a balanced approach which recognised that Tamil armed resistance had arisen as a response to decades of systematic oppression by a dominant Sinhala majority.
In the event, the election of Ranasinghe Premadasa as the new Sri Lanka President in December 1988, and the defeat of the Indian National Congress (led by Rajiv Gandhi) at the Indian General Elections in November 1989 contributed to a reappraisal by India of its foreign policy approaches and the IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka in early 1990.
Rajiv Gandhi and his advisors, who included Romesh Bhandari, had preferred to secure New Delhi's strategic interests (within the constraints imposed by the international frame) by refusing to accept that the LTTE was a friendly force whose interests were not opposed to that of India in South Asia.
Yes, it was altogether a 'dastardly business'...
Yes, it was altogether a 'dastardly business'. Eduardo Marino's report to International Alert, after a visit to the war zone in November 1987 revealed the horrific nature of the IPKF offensive in Jaffna. (see also Indian Armed Forces).
Derek Brown reporting from Colombo declared in the Guardian on 21 October 1987:
Simon Freeman reported in the Sunday Times on 8 November 1987:
But on 9 November 1987, Rajiv Gandhi continued to insist:
The war crimes committed by the IPKF in Tamil Eelam have been documented by independent sources. These crimes included reprisal killings of non-combatants, looting of homes, rape, a murderous attack on the Jaffna hospital , and the killing of a number of unarmed and disarmed guerrilla suspects without trial and in breach of the Laws of War.
It was an IPKF campaign which led Kanapathipillai Poopathy, a 56 year old Tamil mother to take up residence at Mahmangam Pillayar temple in Batticaloa, on 19 March 1988 and commence a fast unto death, to protest to the world, the injustice of the war waged by the IPKF. Poopathy Amma (as this extraordinary woman has come to be affectionately known to the people of Tamil Eelam) went without food and fluids for thirty days before her death on 19th April 1988.
George Fernandez, then an Indian Opposition M.P. (and today India's Defence Minister) was moved to comment in 1989:
All these events, and more remain etched in the memories of the Tamil people. The brutality of the war that India waged from 1987 to 1989, ostensibly against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, but in effect against the Tamil people, brought its own repercussions.
If Rajiv Gandhi had been tried before an International Court of Justice, an opportunity may have been afforded for an informed judgement to be made on the extent of his guilt ..
But, the extent of Rajiv Gandhi's culpability, for the crimes committed by those under his command in Tamil Eelam, will depend on the answer to several questions.
If Rajiv Gandhi had been tried before an International Court of Justice, an opportunity may have been afforded for an informed judgement to be made on the extent of his guilt, and whether, in any case, the imposition of the death penalty was justified - but there was no court of justice whose jurisdiction, the people of Tamil Eelam could have invoked.
Kannagi in Cilapathikaram, took the law into her own hands and burnt down Madurai in her search for justice...
Kannagi in Cilapathikaram, took the law into her own hands and burnt down Madurai in her search for justice.
Today Kannagi is deified in many parts of Tamil Nadu. It is a story rooted in the ordinary lives of the early Tamils of the Pandyan Kingdom in the first century A.D. and is regarded by many as the national epic of the Tamil people. Professor A.L. Basham writing in 'The Wonder that was India' commented that Cilapathikaram has
Again, the international dimension of the assassination may not be without relevance...
Again, the international dimension of the assassination may not be without relevance. The Jain Commission in its Report on the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination concluded in 1997
And Pranay Gupte and Rahul Singh asked in1997: Who killed Olof Palme and Rajiv Gandhi?
Many Tamils will continue to grapple with (and agonise over) the question of moral laws and ethical ideals in the context of an armed struggle for freedom...
Be that as it all may, many Tamils will continue to grapple with (and agonise over) the question of moral laws and ethical ideals in the context of an armed struggle for freedom. The question troubled Arujna in the battlefield of Kurushetra. Aurobindo grappled with it in the 'The Evolution of Man':
And, now, the sentences of death passed on four of the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, compels us to examine these issues yet again - and silence may not be an option...
And, now, the sentences of death passed on four of the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, compels us to examine these issues yet again - and silence may not be an option.
On 8 October 1999, the Indian Supreme Court confirmed the sentence of death passed on G.Perarivalan (alias) Arivu, Murugan (alias) Sri Haran, Santhan (alias) Suthenthiraja and Nalini Bagyanathan in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.The sentences are scheduled to be carried out on 5 November 1999.
The first ground concerns the death penalty as such. Whilst it is true that the UN Commission on Human Rights in April 1997 called on all states that had not yet abolished the death penalty "to consider suspending executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty" it is also true that the carefully worded resolution which called upon governments 'to consider' suspending executions, 'with a view to' abolishing the death penalty (at some future date), reflected the political reality that there was no international consensus on abolishing the death penalty.
The Indian legislature has not abolished the death penalty and the President of India may find it difficult to find reasons to suspend the operation of the law and in effect, reverse the decision of the Supreme Court, in the case of the assassination of a former Prime Minister - unless, he takes the view that the accused did not receive a fair trial, and that to authorise the killing of four humans on the basis of such a trial may result in a grave miscarriage of justice.
Were Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, and Nalini Bagyanathan convicted after a fair trial or was the trial simply a 'show trial' with a pre ordained ending? ...
It is therefore, this question of a fair trial which must remain the crucial issue. Were Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, and Nalini Bagyanathan convicted after a fair trial or was the trial simply a 'show trial' with a pre ordained ending?
Procedural law is civilisation's substitute for private vengeance and self-help. 'Lynch law' is no law. Was the procedure adopted to establish the guilt of the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination a fair one? Was Amnesty International right in pointing out that:
Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, and Nalini Bagyanathan were tried under the Indian Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and not under the normal law of the land.
The trial was held before a Judge, specially appointed under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. The trial was held in secret, away from public scrutiny. The fundamental principle of justice that justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to done is not a cliche. Secrecy breeds abuse of due process. It is when courts function openly and in the public gaze, that the impartiality of the justice system is secured. .
The trial was held in a police dominated environment. It was held within the precincts of Poonamallee jail in Madras, which was designated a special court under TADA. It was the same jail where many of the accused had been detained (and interrogated) for several months since their arrest. (Amnesty International Appeal - 29 January 1998)
In addition, TADA secured the non-disclosure of the identity of witnesses. This not only prevented effective cross examination but also rendered it easier for testimony of doubtful veracity to be introduced by the investigating agencies.
Confessions to a police officer of the rank of a Superintendent of Police, were rendered admissible under TADA. And, where a ‘confession’ implicated a co accused, the Court was required to presume that such co accused was guilty and the burden shifted to the co accused to prove his or her innocence. These provisions of TADA violated the fundamental principle of justice that every one shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty.
The TADA legislative frame also falls to be considered in the context of a country where torture by the police was a ‘routine’ occurrence. Amnesty International reported in 1992:
It will not be wrong to conclude that even the normal propensity of investigating authorities in India to extract confessionary statements would have increased several fold in relation to the Rajiv Gandhi case.
There was considerable political pressure on the investigating authorities 'to deliver the goods'. It is not without significance that although the charge sheet against the original 26 accused was not drawn up until May 1992 and the preliminary trial did not begin until May 1993,the Subjects Committee of the ruling Indian National Congress, had as early as 14 April 1992, unanimously adopted a Political Resolution, calling for a ban on the LTTE for its involvement in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.
Again, though trial proceedings started on 5 May 1993 and ended on 2 November1997, the TADA judge who heard the case for the most part, Mr S.M. Siddick, was elevated to the Madras High Court bench and the judgment was delivered by his successor Mr. V Navaneetham on 28 January 1998. The unwritten rule that a trial judge, who takes up a sessions case, which also covers murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code should deliver judgment, before taking up his next assignment was not observed in this instance. And it was Judge Navaneetham who sentenced all 26 accused to death.
And in a revealing interview with The Week in February 1998, D.R. Karthikeyan who led the Special Investigating Team (SIT) into the Rajiv Gandhi assassination declared:
If the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was wrong, then, it is worse, to punish on the basis of a ‘show trial’ which, in truth, was no trial at all...
However, on appeal the Indian Supreme Court on 11 May 1999, reversed the finding of the TADA court and held that the trial court had erred in law in convicting the accused of offences relating to terrorism under Sections 3 and Section 5 of TADA. The Indian Supreme Court acquitted all the accused of the 'terrorism' charge and also quashed the sentences of death on all but four of the accused.
In the result, these four accused, Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, and Nalini Bagyanathan though acquitted of the 'terrorism'charges under TADA, were nevertheless sentenced to death, on the basis of facts determined in a trial under the procedural rules specified in TADA, in respect of offences which were indictable under the normal laws of the land. They were, in this way, denied the procedural safeguards which would have been available to them under the normal law.
The Indian Supreme Court constrained by the law, took the view though the accused had been acquitted of the 'terrorism' charge, and though TADA itself had been allowed to lapse by the Indian Government by the time that the appeal was heard, TADA was nevertheless the operative law at the time of the trial. It was not within the remit of the Indian Supreme Court to over ride the provisions of the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act.
However the, question that will trouble many is whether the guilt of Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, and Nalini Bagyanathan in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, would have been proven if they had been tried under the normal law of the land in accordance with international standards for a fair trial.
What was the extent of their culpability? Did they have the requisite criminal intent or were they innocent instruments? Was their conduct consistent only with their guilt?
What reliance may be placed on the results of a police investigation which was subject to immense political pressure to 'deliver the goods'? An investigation where though the majority of those accused were arrested in July 1991, a charge sheet was not drawn up until May 1992 and a preliminary trial did not begin until May 1993. The trial itself took place in January 1994 in the Poonamallee jail in Madras, designated a special court under TADA, where many of those sentenced had been detained for almost seven years since arrest.
What weight may be placed on the testimony of witnesses whose identities were not disclosed - secret witnesses who stood behind a screen to answer Counsel's queries? What value may be placed on confessions secured in a police dominated environment where torture was 'routine'?
Were issues such as these properly addressed at the secret trial in Poonamallee jail? Was the Trial Judge who, had clearly erred when he sentenced all 26 accused to death and who had held wrongly that the accused were guilty of terrorism, subject to the same pressures to which the police investigation had been subject? Did his understandable concern to bring to justice those who had assassinated a Prime Minister of India, deny the accused a fair hearing in the secret trial in Poonamallee jail?
The assassination of ex Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was wrong, because it was wrong to punish without charge and without trial according to law. But, if that was wrong, then, the proposed judicially authorised killing of Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, and Nalini Bagyanathan is worse because it seeks to punish on the basis of a secret trial which, in truth, was no trial at all - a ‘show trial’ with a pre ordained ending with features which, to many Tamils, may invite comparison with the infamous show trials of 1936 under Stalin’s regime in the then Soviet Union.