March 29, 2020
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Commissions, Omissions

I had the dubious privilege of appearing before Justice Milap Chand Jain's Commission on April 11 and 12, 1996, and again on April 9, 1997.

Commissions, Omissions

I had the dubious privilege of appearing before Justice Milap Chand Jain's Commission on April 11 and 12, 1996, and again on April 9, 1997. So I claim some knowledge, limited though it may be, about the Jain Commission's manner of functioning. The primary objective of the Jain Commission, as I understood it, was to come to definite conclusions on whether there was a wider conspiracy—beyond the Verma Commission findings—leading to Rajiv Gandhi's tragic demise.

Now, Jain has submitted his 17-volume interim  report, eight volumes of interim findings and nine annexures, and all hell has broken loose, but not because of any definitiveness about the findings or his conclusions. The cogitations following the leaked publication of the report are essentially exercises in political opportunism.

Hence, certain facts merit recall. The first panel set up to inquire into Rajiv Gandhi's death was the Verma Commission which was to probe the security lapses that led to the killing. Justice Verma submitted his report within 13 months of the assassination in June 1992. The report was tabled in Parliament—the Narasimha Rao government initially rejected Verma's findings and then accepted it under pressure. But no concrete action was taken on the recommendations. The Jain Commission had broader terms of reference: to probe into the entire gamut of circumstances, policies and events which might have led to the assassination. Justice Jain has taken five years to submit the interim report and might take another six months to a year to submit the final one. The conclusions of the Jain Commission could be summed up thus:

  •  There was a deliberate casualness on the part of the V.P.Singh and Chandra Shekhar governments about Rajiv's security which led to his murder.
  •  Karunanidhi and the DMK aided the LTTE, giving it sanctuary in Tamil Nadu which facilitated the successful LTTE plot to kill Rajiv. These warnings apparently came from Yasser Arafat and on the basis of information gathered by intelligence agencies about LTTE activities in Tamil Nadu between '89 and '91.

  •  The Rao, Deve Gowda and Gujral governments have not submitted some relevant documents and files to the Jain Commission which might throw light on the involvement of Chandraswami, certain political groups and political leaders in India in the assassination plot, thus perhaps stymying the commission's effort to reach a conclusion on the conspiracy. The reason why senior civil servants did not take effective precautionary action indicates possibilities of either deliberate negligence or collusion by the political leadership of both the Centre and Tamil Nadu. (This despite information available in advance about the danger to Rajiv's life.)

    That the LTTE assassinated Rajiv because of its apprehensions that he would stage a comeback in 1991 is generally accepted. That Dhanu, the suicide bomber, carried out a personal vendetta is also known, as she and her family were reportedly victims of IPKF operations. Dhanu's immediate collaborators from the LTTE committed suicide near Bangalore just when they were about to be arrested. So the vital link was destroyed.

    An empirical dimension of circumstances leading to the assassinations of prominent political leaders is the fact that in most cases details of the broader conspiracy never get established. Even at this point of time, definitive information about the conspiracies behind the murders of Liaquat Ali Khan, Col. Aung San, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Anwar Sadat, Indira Gandhi and Zia-ul-Haq are not known. The question is whether the Jain Commission report will face the same predicament as the Warren Commission's report on John F. Kennedy. It is in this context that some facts should be put in place.

    First, it would be a prejudiced approach if Karunanidhi, the DMK, Nedumaran and Gopala-samy alone are accused of hobnobbing with the LTTE and giving it support. There is enough evidence that former Tamil Nadu chief minister M.G. Ramachandran gave financial and logistical support to the LTTE from 1987—that continued even after the IPKF had launched operations in Sri Lanka. The Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat continued discussions with the LTTE throughout the IPKF campaign, keeping the armed forces in the dark about these contacts. One presumes that these contacts had been authorised by—and was with the knowledge of—Rajiv Gandhi. If this was not so, then the fact that our intelligence agencies were maintaining such contacts when the Indian Army was operating against the LTTE is a serious matter, because this would be a case of one of India's premier intelligence agencies functioning with anarchic autonomy against the policies of the government.

    Then, LTTE representatives met Rajiv in late 1990 or early 1991. There is no specific indication in the Jain Commission's interim report on whether the Government of India made an assessment and came to any conclusions about the security implications for Rajiv due to these contacts. Most importantly, Justice Jain says five or six documents related to advance information about the threats to Rajiv's life have not been made available to the commission; and that some document in the file containing vital information have been lost or misplaced in the office of then prime minister Rao.

    It is to be noted that some documents and files related to LTTE and Sri Lanka were kept in the PMO and not in other ministries or departments—a moot point on which former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey and some other officials were quizzed. There is no evidence and Justice Jain has not reached any definite conclusion, but there are reports in circulation that these missing documents relate to Chandraswami's involvement in the conspiracy. There are innuendos that former prime ministers V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar and Rao might have decided to claim executive privilege about some documents, because these may have thrown light on the involvement of Indian political circles in Rajiv's assassination. Otherwise why were documents or files, if they exist, not made available to Jain?

    Another point to be kept in mind is that Jayalalitha and Congress members should stop pointing fingers at other political parties, because MGR and the Congress leadership maintained contacts with the LTTE, not only during the IPKF operations but even after that. Second, the LTTE continues to have connections and a support base in southern Indian states. Home minister Indrajit Gupta asking Justice Jain to provide specific evidence about his interim conclusions is a conundrum if one were to accept Jain's assertion that he was not provided with some relevant documents by government departments. The primary concern of the Indian people is to get to the bottom of the conspiracy and, if possible, identify key conspirators. Instead of building up pressure, all political parties are engaged in using the interim findings as an instrument to play power politics. This will just not do.

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