Nalini Sriharan’s case for early release will be heard on February 19th. Once again the proposal to release her from a life sentence for involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate late Rajiv Gandhi is back in the news. Her petition for release was considered by the Tamil Nadu Prison Advisory Board which forwarded its recommendation to the CM. Chief Minister Karunanidhi has forwarded it to the central government for appropriate action. Media speculation is rife that Nalini, the mother of a child, may be released on compassionate grounds. Nalini’s husband, Murugan, a co-accused in the same conspiracy, is also serving a life sentence.
Such compassion from the usually hard hearted political class is refreshing. Asked by a TV channel some time ago to comment on the possible release of a prime minister’s assassin senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer recalled Shakespeare’s Portia pleading that the quality of mercy was not strained. It is all rather touching. However, a few inconvenient unanswered questions continue to nag. The sequence of events leading up to the present speculation about Nalini’s release raises these questions.
The subject of her release gained currency after Priyanka Vadhra paid a visit to Nalini in prison in March 2009. That visit was secret, unrecorded by the prison authorities, and illegal. Clearly, the visit required the complicity of government officials who abetted that illegality. Priyanka Vadhra was accompanied by a RAW officer who escorted her to the prison but remained outside the cell while Vadhra spoke with Nalini. News of the visit, which might have remained secret, surfaced in an odd fashion.
It was Nalini’s lawyer, S Duraisamy, who had the information leaked out through his son. The son invoked the Right to Information Act to ferret out news of the meeting for public consumption. Vadhra confirmed the information with alacrity. Did the lawyer have evidence to prove that the meeting took place? Also, by acknowledging the meeting did Vadhra thereby confirm her commitment to any assurance she might have given to Nalini? What was said in the meeting between Vadhra and Nalini was further conveyed to the media by her lawyer. Nalini had extensively briefed the lawyer about what transpired during the one hour long meeting. According to the lawyer Vadhra wanted to know from Nalini if she knew who the mastermind behind the assassination was, and what the motive behind the murder was. This version by the lawyer has not been contradicted.
Surely, the information sought by 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. The motive was attributed to LTTE’s longstanding perception of having been betrayed by Rajiv Gandhi. Vadhra’s query to Nalini therefore suggests dissatisfaction with the official view. Such skepticism would not surprise given some unexplained aspects of the assassination.
Rajiv Gandhi was murdered by a woman suicide bomber. Her name was Dhanu. She was an LTTE agent. She was living as the tenant of a senior Congress woman leader. When she went to blow herself up to kill Rajiv Gandhi she was accompanied to the site of the assassination by that senior Congress leader’s daughter. That daughter too is a Congress leader and is presently an MLA in Tamil Nadu. Clearly, both mother and daughter could not have been aware of the conspiracy to kill Gandhi. Had they been complicit they would not have drawn attention to themselves in such glaring fashion. But the question remains. 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. Tenants are rarely accommodated without a proper appreciation of their backgrounds. Answers to these questions have never been publicized.
Instead the entire probe by the Special Investigative Team (SIT) was further muddied. After the SIT chief, former CBI Director Kaarthikeyan wrote a book to describe his successful investigation, Major Ravi, leader of the commando team which was to capture the leader of the LTTE killer squad, Sivarasan, claimed that Kaarthikeyan prevented him from apprehending the killer for one whole week by disallowing action. The delay gave opportunity to Sivarasan to commit suicide and bury the truth. Major Ravi went to the extent of making a film to outline his version.
The plot thickened after sections of the language media reported last year that Nalini’s co-accused husband, Murugan, was planning a book about the assassination which would identify some politicians who were involved in the conspiracy. Nothing more has been heard of the book after the possibility of Nalini’s release surfaced. All these facts would seem to justify Priyanka Vadhra’s query about the mastermind behind the assassination.
Until the whole truth about Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination becomes credible and public the release of Nalini would seem to be unjustified and suspicious. It is ironic that Congress leaders are so casual about the investigation of the murder of their iconic leader. It is left to the erstwhile critics of Rajiv Gandhi to demand truth and transparency for doing justice to the memory of the slain Prime Minister.