05 December 2016 Books Cover Story

90 Days On The Run Or Let Loose?

An extract from the chapter ‘Why did the CBI avoid (capturing) ­Sivarasan?’ from Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict Nalini Murugan’s ­recently released memoir, Rajiv Killing: Forgotten Truths
90 Days On The Run Or Let Loose?
BOMB & GORE
On May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was ­assassinated by an ­LTTE suicide bomber at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu
90 Days On The Run Or Let Loose?
outlookindia.com
2016-11-25T19:20:00+0530
Rajiv Killing: Forgotten Truths And Priyanka Nalini Meeting
By Thiraivasi Nalini Murugan

“Was it really difficult to capture Sivarasan, the man who was named as the main accused in the case? Or was he a skilful eva­der?” That is a question which would have occurred to many. If you ask us, we would assert: He could have been easily caught. And it was the CBI’s inv­estigative wing that deliberately tried to portray him as a difficult person to catch.

I am not making this accusation lightly or superficially. To be fair, this is not even my finding. All that I am saying is based on what the CBI has said, the recorded evidence placed before the court, news reports and other important documents. You must read and form your own conclusion.

On the night of May 21, 1991, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi takes place. The next day itself, May 22, the CBI takes over the case from the Crime Branch CID and appoints a Special Investigation Team. And the hunt for the accused begins.

Nalini

On May 23, at the Thanjavur bus stand, amidst great drama, they arrest a person by the name of Shankar. The next day, the newspapers carry the story, as given by the police, that Shankar is a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The newspaper reports say, “A Liberation Tiger by the name of Shankar had stayed at a lodge in Purasawalkam. His stay was paid for by Sivarasan.” So it is evident that by May 23 itself the CBI was aware of Sivarasan’s name.

This Shankar was the none other than the fourth accused and one among the 26 persons awarded the death sentence. However, he was later released by the court on the ground that “just because he was a Tiger or was in touch with Sivarasan, he cannot be held guilty of the Rajiv Gandhi murder”.

In Shankar’s dairy, investigators found a small piece of paper that had two phone numbers and addresses scrawled on it. One of them also had my name, written as Nalini Das, along with my office phone number and office address. The other was the phone number of Robert Payaz, listed as Ebenezer Store. Based on these two phone numbers, they swung into action. Right from that moment on, I and Robert Payas came under their surveillance net.

And if I had come under their surveillance net, it could be logically concluded that my husband (Sriharan alias ‘Murugan’) too came under surveillance immediately. This can’t be refuted.

On May 23, after I had left my office, the police went there to enquire about me. Three days around this time—including May 24 and 25—were declared as holidays. So I did not go to office. Thereafter, on May 27 and 29, they came to interrogate me at my office. It is natural to presume they would also have posted policemen to keep an eye on my home as well as office. If this is refuted, then we have to accept that their method of enquiry was superficial.

During that period, from the house at Royapettah, my husband used to regularly come to my office at Adyar to meet me. It is inevitable that he too should have come under their surveillance net.

Now again, by May 23 itself, the investigators were also in possession of the photographs of Sivarasan, Dhanu, Subha (a female LTTE operative) and me, printed out from the camera of Haribabu that was recovered from the site of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. They were repeatedly enquiring about those present in those photographs. There are witnesses to attest to the fact that the CBI had those photographs with them by May 23.

So, through Shankar, they came to know of Sivarasan’s name for the first time. And they had also got his photograph. Let this be. Let me place some more facts before you and return to this point later.

On May 26, the press publishes the pictures clicked by Haribabu before the bomb blast: these show Dhanu standing holding a sandalwood garland. The next day, May 27, evening newspapers also publish pictures of a kurta-pyjama-clad ­Sivarasan (standing at the site, a few feet away, before the blast).

The End

LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran was killed on May 19, 2009

Photograph by Getty Images

As Haribabu was a student of Subha Sundaram (not the female LTTE operative, but a studio owner, who was not connected to the plot and was later acquitted), they began interrogating him from May 23 and arrested him on May 29. They also started tracking other friends of Haribabu. This was the route or method of enquiry the investigators were pursuing.

Similarly, on June 3, they began investigating my brother Bhagyanathan too. They would come every day and take him for interrogation. He would be brought back for lunch, and again taken and dropped back in the evening. This cycle of interrogation would resume early the next morning. After continuing this for three days, they arrested my brother on June 6. So it is reasonable to presume that our house was under police surveillance. Am I right?

As for Perarivalan (who was convicted for providing a 9-volt battery for the explosive device), he had left with his belongings to his native place, Jolarpettai, on May 23. Later the investigators went up to Jolarpettai on his trail. So the police net had reached there too.

Sivarasan and Subha ­committed ­suicide on August 19. In the 65 days since Nalini’s arrest, the CBI had many opportunities to catch Sivarasan, but they said he always escaped.

Amidst all this, it was increasingly becoming difficult for Murugan to stay at my Royapettah house, ­because my mother had come to know of our love affair. Since that became an issue, I requested him to shift temporarily to my brother Bhagyanathan’s printing press. Hence, from May 27, that is where he stayed. After finishing with office work, I used to meet him regularly, buy him food and only then leave for my home. The sleuths, who were following every movement of mine, would have naturally known about these meetings and about his presence.

On June 9, three days after my brother’s arrest, my mother, my sister Kalyani, friend Bharathi and mentally retarded Uncle Rasarathinam too were arrested. The same day, they also arrested Jayakumar, his wife Shanthi and their child. The next day, June 10, Robert Payas was arrested along with his family. Meanwhile, Perarivalan, for whom the ­police had been searching, also surrendered on June 11 and they announced his arrest.

The next day, my photograph appeared in the press. Details and identification of my husband were given under the name ‘Das’. The day after, my husband’s photo also appeared in the newspapers. Not really his photo, but a graphical rendering done on a computer—obviously based on descriptions provided by someone who knew Murugan’s features very well. It was quite accurate. It naturally meant that someone very close to us had helped the CBI generously. It is such people who later cast aspersions on us.

Murugan

After all the others had been apprehended, we were the last to be arrested—on June 14, as we landed in the middle of the night at Saidapet bus stop. That we were the last to be arrested is significant. It means there was no possibility of us having pointed out any­body, or having led the investigators to others. All those arrested were among the 26 who were later awarded the death sentence by the court. Apart from us, there were many more who had been arrested and kept under custody in ‘Malligai’ (the SIT office).

Now let me return to where I left off.

Twenty-four days had elapsed since May 21, the day of the assassination, till June 14. For all these days, Sivarasan had been in constant touch with some of the people I have mentioned above. This has been recorded in many of the CBI’s own documents. The testimony of some witnesses too supports the fact.

On May 23 itself, Sivarasan met us. On May 25-26, he journeyed with us to Tirupati and back. After that, he met my husband twice more. Similarly, he met my brother too. Besides that, the CBI wrote down here and there that Sivarasan met my husband and some other people who were already under surveillance between May 26 and June 7.

At this point, let us look at one such story put out by the CBI. According to their version, Sivarasan, Subha, Santhan, my husband and I were supposed to have met and discussed things at the Adyar Ashtalakshmi temple on June 7, and that Subha was supposed to have been treated at a hospital there.

Even according to this story, it is evident that we were all together. Leave the others. They had come to my office to investigate me and I was continuo­usly under their surveillance. Hence, my husband (who used to come and meet me) also would have been in their cross-hairs. In that case, how come they did not follow us or catch us when we all got together to meet so many times?

Either they are lying about keeping us continually on surveillance. Or (even after knowing about him) they did not catch Sivarasan deliberately, isn’t it? If they had actually followed any one of us, it would have been possible to catch Sivarasan, isn’t it?

To fully understand why the CBI kept running away from Sivarasan, one has to read Rajiv Gandhi Padukolai: Thooku Kaytril Nijam, written by Trichy Veluchamy, a Congressman.

Even aside from the instances mentioned above, there were many more opportunities for arresting Sivarasan. Many phone numbers had been ann­ounced for informers to get in touch with the SIT of CBI, headquartered at ‘Malligai’. There were witnesses who gave information on Sivarasan to ‘Malligai’ after these phone numbers were announced. In particular, the neighbours of the accused Jayakumar and Vijayan have given testimony that they spoke many times to ‘Malligai’, giving away information.

Now, officials had been specifically appointed to take follow-up action based on such telephone calls. But strangely, none of them knew Tamil. Nor were they familiar with English. They had app­ointed only those who knew Telugu and Hindi. This was, of course, a planned move. And it was revealed in an interview given to a website where Jebamani Mohanraj, a researcher with the CBI, lamented the fact that “they had appointed officials to that post who did not know Tamil”.

Let me share another clear piece of news.

The surveillance net had, among other targets of investigation, focused sharply on: (1) Haribabu’s parents, Subha Sundaram, witnesses Ravi Shankar, Arul Mani, Bhagyanathan and Perarivalan; (2) Shankar and Jagatheesan (the latter was arrested and later released); (3) Me, my husband Murugan, my mother and my sister Kalyani; and (4) the families of Robert Payas and Jayakumar.

There are many more witnesses to attest to the fact that all these people had been under the surveillance net before June 15. And Sivarasan was frequently meeting with all the four sets of people mentioned above or those in their circle of contact till June 15. There is evidence of that. All I have said now is from the rec­orded evidence of the CBI itself.

From this, we can surmise that Sivarasan had come under police surveillance much before June 15.

I need to say another thing. They arrested my brother on June 6. Before that, they visited my house for three days. And by that time they also had my photograph, taken at the assassination spot. Despite all this, neither I nor my husband (who was regularly meeting me) was arrested. Why?

The funny thing is that, on page 49 of the book Conspiracy to Kill Rajiv Gandhi: From CBI Files, written by K. Ragothaman, who was the CBI’s chief investigative officer, he talks about finding my name as well as my office phone number—“and based on which the two phone numbers were contacted. The first number was found to be that of a company by name Anacon Silicon. Nalini was working there. The other number was that of a grocery shop called Ebenezer store. Another investigative unit had gone to Anacon Silicon earlier and had enquired (but) did not get any specific information. She had said, ‘Of course, I know Das. Das may have known many people. That doesn’t mean I had anything to do with all those people.’ When the officers had gone to enquire about Das to Royapettah, it was at Bhagyanathan’s house that the investigative officer said he had seen Nalini,” writes Ragothaman.

After referring to the arrest of my brother Bhagyanathan at home, Ragothaman continues on page 50, “Nalini was not there. She had escaped. When we went back to her Adyar office, they said she had resigned. As we thought arresting a woman based on mere assumptions would create problems for her in her life, we decided to wait and act. However, that turned out to be a mistake.”

Ragothaman has accepted the fact in his book that they came to my office and interrogated me. So from then on, was I not under surveillance? How absurd then is it to say that, when he ret­urned, I had already escaped after giving in my resignation letter?

After resigning, I remained at home. After my brother was arrested, all of us—the rest of the family—tried to commit suicide together, and we were saved only by the accidental entry of my husband who saved us! This is there in our testimony! My friend Bharathi, who became a government witness, has also said the same thing. How absurd is it then to say that I escaped?

But let it be. The CBI is supposed to have found out about our June 7 meeting at Adyar Ashtalaks­hmi temple. Why didn’t they arrest us then? Why? Is it not true that we were all under the surveillance net of the CBI? Or is it true that even with such surveillance they deliberately avoided arresting Siv­arasan? The truth has to be either of these.

It was on August 19, they said, that Sivarasan and Subha committed suicide in Bangalore. In the int­ervening 65 days (since our arrest), they had—and there are many evidences to prove that they had—many opportunities to catch Sivarasan alive. However, they said he staged a narrow escape each time and inv­ariably they reached a little after Sivarasan had escaped. Why this hide-and-seek drama?

Lastly, they did not act immediately after they surrounded the house where Sivarasan was staying. They deliberately delayed any action for 20 hours. If they were waiting for anaesthesia drugs, the Indian army could have flown it from Delhi within an hour. Why enact a drama? The truth is, they wanted to avoid capturing Sivarasan alive. Many journals had condemned this deliberate lethargy of the CBI then.

I also want to point out that Bangalore Ranganath—who was arrested in this case, awarded the death sentence and finally released—had clearly stated that the “CBI did not want to capture Sivarasan alive”.

***

Dramatis Personae

In the Rajiv Gandhi ­assassination trial, the Supreme Court in May 1999 confirmed the death sentences of

  • S. Nalini (Accused No. 1)
  • T. Suthendraraja @ Santhan (Accused No. 2)
  • Sriharan @ Murugan (Accused No. 3) and
  • G. Perarivalan @ Arivu (Accused No. 18)
  • It commuted to life imprisonment the ­sentence of Robert Payas, S. Jayakumar and P. Ravichandran
  • The court set aside the sentence of the rest of the accused (in all, 26 persons were ­sentenced to death)
  • In April 2000, Nalini’s death penalty was ­commuted to life ­imprisonment by the Tamil Nadu governor ­following a state cabinet recommendation
  • In February 2014, the Supreme Court ­commuted to life ­imprisonment the ­sentences of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan

The Karthikeyan-led Special Investigation Team should be given credit for trying to conceal a full pumpkin under a heap of rice on a plantain leaf.

(Translated and edited excerpts)

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