Earlier this week CBI sleuths visited Sri Lanka to question former LTTE leader Selvarasa Pathmanathan in connection with Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Rajiv was murdered over two decades ago. Is the probe behind his killing still on? If not, has it been revived? Or is it that the CBI ad hoc started probing the case again because of recent events? Is there any proper procedure being followed? Has any proper procedure ever been followed by Indian officialdom? One does not know. One does know that the performance record of the CBI is abysmal although the agency employs first class officers.
The mystery behind the Rajiv assassination refuses to die down. We know the killers but without knowing the conspirators. The current controversy arose after a new book was released by Mr. K. Ragothaman who was the CBI”s chief investigating officer in the case. The author has made the sensational charge that evidence in the form of a telltale tape recording the murder scene was deliberately suppressed by the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Mr. Ragothaman repeated his charge over TV. He was refuted by both Mr. DR Karthikeyan who led the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in that case and by West Bengal Governor Mr. MK Narayanan who headed the IB at the time. Both pleaded memory loss after 21 years and the fact that the case had been thoroughly scrutinized by a judicial commission.
India seems condemned to suffer political conspiracies and unnatural deaths of its leaders. This may persist until government becomes transparent and scrupulously observes norm and procedure.
It is ironic that trenchant critics of the Congress like this writer demanded satisfactory probes of slain Congress leaders, but politicians who thrived under them remained casual.
Regardless of the validity or otherwise of Mr. Ragothaman’s allegations uncertainty about what transpired in that tragic event has always been voiced. In these columns many inexplicable aspects about the assassination had been pointed out and questions had been raised. Indeed a continuous stream of events and revelations has haunted this case. The SIT chief in that case and former CBI Director Mr. Kaarthikeyan wrote a book about what he described as a successful investigation. However he was almost immediately rebutted by Major Ravi who led the commando team to capture the leader of the LTTE killer squad, Sivarasan. Major Ravi alleged that Mr. Karthikeyan prevented him from apprehending Sivarasan for one whole week by disallowing action. That crucial delay allowed Sivarasan to commit suicide and bury the truth. Major Ravi persisted with his version by even making a film to iterate his allegation.
Also, in March 2009 Mrs. Priyanka Vadhra visited Nalini Sriharan who along with her husband Murugan was serving life sentence as a co-accused in the murder case. Mrs. Vadhra’s visit was secret, unrecorded and in violation of procedure. She was accompanied by a RAW officer who was not allowed presence while she talked alone with Nalini. News of her visit surfaced only after the son of Nalini’s lawyer, Mr. Doraisami, filed an RTI application. Why was the meeting secret and why was Nalini’s lawyer interested in getting it exposed? According to Mr. Doraisami Mrs. Vadhra pointedly asked Nalini if she knew who the mastermind behind the assassination was. Mrs. Vadhra did not deny the meeting after it became public. She claimed that she was motivated by compassion. It might be recalled that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi had subsequently stated that she was not opposed to commuting Nalini’s death sentence. Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyer reinforced this sentiment by quoting Shakespeare’s lines about the quality of mercy not being strained.
On February 11, 2010 it was asked in these columns:
“Surely, the information sought by Mrs. Vadhra was, to say the least, decidedly odd? Except for conspiracy theorists it was widely acknowledged that the mastermind of the assassination was the LTTE leader Prabhakaran… Vadhra’s query to Nalini therefore suggests dissatisfaction with the official view. Such scepticism would not surprise given some unexplained aspects of the assassination.”
The most glaring unexplained aspect of the assassination was of course that the woman suicide bomber, Dhanu, was the tenant of a senior Congress woman leader. Not only that, when she went to kill Rajiv Gandhi, Dhanu was accompanied to the murder site by that senior Congress leader’s daughter who also became a Congress MLA in Tamil Nadu. Obviously both mother and daughter were unaware of the conspiracy because otherwise the daughter would never have accompanied Dhanu to the murder site. But the question that needed to be asked and was never satisfactorily provided to the public was raised in these columns:
“How did Dhanu the suicide bomber succeed in penetrating the Congress circle to become the tenant of a Congress leader and develop such trust that the daughter actually accompanied her for the suicide mission? Who introduced Dhanu to the Congress leader to enable her becoming the tenant? Was it a politician? Surely, the trail of contacts that enabled Dhanu to penetrate the Congress circle needed to be unearthed.”
Currently Nalini’s lawyer Mr. Doraisami has also written a book about Rajiv’s murder and has raised questions expressing dissatisfaction with the probe. Broadly he has raised three queries. Who made the belt bomb used by Dhanu? Who provided the RDX to Sivarasan? Why were AICC officials reluctant to cooperate with the probe? Why was more than Rs. 1 crore paid by Sivarasan to a person who remains unidentified to this day?
To all these questions that are not unreasonable there are no satisfactory answers provided by investigators.
The mystery behind Rajiv Gandhi’s death may never be solved. That should not surprise. Relevant questions related to the deaths of Subhash Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi have never been satisfactorily addressed either. India seems condemned to suffer political conspiracies and unnatural deaths of its leaders. This may persist until government becomes transparent and scrupulously observes norm and procedure. Until then the public will continue to co-exist with half-truths. It is ironic that trenchant critics of the Congress like this writer demanded satisfactory probes of slain Congress leaders, but politicians who thrived under them remained casual.