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Jayaram Ranganath, 40, is accused No. 26 in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. A Kannadiga Tamil from Bangalore, he was married to Mridula and owned a workshop in the garden city. An unwitting player after Rajiv's assassins—kingpin Sivarasan alias one-eyed Jack, and Shubha, part of the killer squad at Sriperumbudur, along with five others—knocked on his backdoor and allegedly forced entry into his house on August 6, 1991. The LTTE operatives stayed on till August 20 when the CBI raided the house and found them dead. The deaths, says the police, was by suicide, although there are doubts about this theory.
Ranganath was arrested on August 18, 1991, for sheltering Sivarasan and Shubha. Ironically, it was Ranganath who informed the police about the fugitives in his house and is the only witness to the CBI's break-in operation. And he and his estranged wife are the only ones to have heard Sivarasan and Shubha speak about the crime.
Ranganath's recent affidavit filed before the Jain Commission accuses the CBI of deliberately hiding key facts and shielding several culprits. His major contention is that his information that Sivarasan and his team were promised a safe passage to the West by Chandraswami and details pertaining to the god -man and some Congress leaders were not recorded by the CBI. According to him, the CBI was determined not to widen the net beyond the role of the LTTE in the plot to kill Rajiv. "As the only living witness and the only one with no political axe to grind, my words should be taken seriously," he declares.
As a key witness, the information he has is important, to say the least. A.S. Panneerselvan sought an interview through Ranganath's lawyers. The questions were sent to him at the high security Poonamallee sub-jail located within the designated court complex where the Rajiv assassination case is being heard in Chennai. Ranganath's answers have been duly attested by the additional superintendent of the jail. Excerpts:
Did Sivarasan and Shubha tell you about their connections with Chandraswami and an AICC functionary?
They did speak about their connections with Chandraswami and also with a Congress leader from Karnataka who was a member of Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet. They used to say that it was through this leader that they got the details of Rajiv Gandhi's election tour programme. They talked about the AICC functionary as their close associate. During his stay with me, Sivarasan also informed me that Chandraswami was his godfather.
(In his affidavit submitted to the Jain Commission on November 4, Ranganath speaks of Sivarasan and Shubha naming Aswath Narayan, a local Congress leader, as one of their friends. Both Shubha and Sivarasan pointed out that Narayan was close to the AICC functionary in Delhi who helped them with Rajiv's tour programme.)
What was the safe passage promised to Sivarasan by Chandraswami?
Sivarasan wanted to go abroad directly from Bangalore. This was the reason why he came to Bangalore. But he said that if he went to Jaffna he could be killed and that the 'Jain Muni' (The godman's real name is Nemichand Jain) would arrange for his safe passage to a foreign country.
(In his affidavit to the commission, Ranganath declares that Sivarasan told him the godman planned to first bring him to Delhi and then sneak him out to a foreign destination.)
Did the CBI prevent you from telling the whole truth?
The CBI threatened me. Barring the LTTE, they did not want me to mention the involvement of the others in the crime. Since they fixed the LTTE as the only offenders, they wanted evidence to accuse it—and not against those who commissioned the offence.
What are the truths the CBI refused to record or act upon?
Then CBI chief Karthikeyan warned me not to speak anything about the AICC functionary or any other Congress people, and Chandraswami. Karthikeyan seemed to know the facts about the assassination and also the powers behind Rajiv's killing. He warned me of serious consequences if I gave the information to a magistrate or others. From what he told me it was clear that he was shielding Chandraswami and some key Congress people. Even after my request, CBI (SIT) failed to record my statement.
I took DCP Kempiah (Karnataka police) to the Bangalore hideout where Sivarasan and Shubha were hiding. But his statement has not been produced before the designated court.
How do you know that the CBI was reluctant to arrest Sivarasan and Shubha?
On the morning of July 30, 1991, a person called Vicky was arrested at Coimbatore. He gave specific information about Sivarasan's hideout in Bangalore (this was before Sivarasan and the others forcibly entered Ranganath's house on August 6). But for 24 hours, the CBI made no effort to search the hideout. On August 2, 1991, the CBI questioned one Jaganathan, who arranged four safehouses for the LTTE workers. He gave details of the locations of these houses and the hospitals in which the injured LTTE men were admitted. But the CBI did not make any effort to arrest Sivarasan. Perhaps because if he were caught alive, Sivarasan would squeal about those who conspired to kill Rajiv and also of his (Sivarasan's) connections with Congressmen. This is perhaps why even on August 18, 1991, the CBI did not allow the local police to catch them.
If I get an opportunity to depose before the Jain Commission, then I will prove the fact that there are other persons involved in Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. I am the only one alive who stayed with Sivarasan and Shubha (after the assassination) and heard what they had to say about the killing.