SENIOR Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee is the latest in a long list of VIPs whose intent has been put in doubt by the Jain Commission probing Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. He is said to have been aware of the larger conspiracy to kill Rajiv. And further corroboration of the role played by godman Chandraswami in the assassination has come in the form of depositions before the commission by individuals and security agencies, who say the godman made several pronouncements "on finishing off the Nehru dynasty".
The crucial deposition comes from Ramesh Dalal, a former Chandraswami devotee and self-styled president of the Netaji Subhash Sena, a 'non-political organisation'. Dalal says that in 1986 the godman called a meeting of prominent Congress rebels like Pranab, P.V. Nara-simha Rao, A.P. Sharma, Prakash Mehrotra, S.S. Mohapatra and Gundu Rao. At the meeting, held at 18 Willingdon Crescent, Delhi, Chandraswami asked Congressmen to elect a new leader. Then, Dalal says, a difference of opinion ensued between Rao and Pranab on who should lead.
Gundu Rao intervened to say that whoever could spend more money should be PM. At which point, the godman said he would spend money for Rao, while Pranab claimed Dhirubhai Ambani was backing him. They later approached veteran Kamlapati Tripathi, who suggested Rao's name as he was senior and most Congress MPs were from the south.
Dalal even claims that, thereafter, Chandraswami and Mohapatra went to see the then president, Giani Zail Singh, and offered him Rs 40 crore. When Rajiv Gandhi learnt of the plan, he reportedly threatened Pranab, who had formed the Rashtriya Samajvadi Congress, that his foreign accounts would be investigated. This seems to have had the desired effect on Pranab.
According to Dalal's affidavit, in 1988, when several establishments belonging to Chandraswami were raided for alleged FERA and income tax violations, the godman was livid. Dalal claims that he was present when the godman invited Chandra Shekhar, K.P.Unnikrishnan, Ajit Singh and Devi Lal, among others, in an effort to preempt an arrest. Chandra Shekhar suggested that a delegation meet the president to help the godman. In the course of the meeting, Dalal says Chandraswami lost his temper, saying that "since Rajiv Gandhi had created problems" for him, "Shri Rajiv Gandhi would meet a very cruel destiny". Chandraswami is also alleged to have said: "I would see that the Nehru parivar should be liquidated."
In between, Chandraswami also tried to sell a tape regarding the Bofors pay-off to Rajiv, but he declined to meet him. Later, according to Dalal, Chandraswami, with the help of Rao and Romesh Bhandari, forged papers in the St Kitts case to curry favour with Rajiv. Chandraswami, who stayed out of the country during V.P. Singh's regime, what with the CBI close on his heels, returned to the country when Chandra Shekhar assumed power.
Dalal says during this period he went to see Chandraswami at his residence. He recalls: "He called me to his room and told me two persons of the LTTE, one of whom was called 'deputy tiger', had come to see him. He asked me to see him some other day as he was busy with the aforesaid two persons belonging to the LTTE. " Dalal continues that, just before Rajiv was killed on May 21, 1991, "some persons from Bombay" came to meet Chandraswami seeking funds for the 1991 polls. "Shri Chandraswami refused to give election funds to these persons and told them that the elections would be postponed within two or three days." A few days later, Rajiv was killed and polls postponed. Dalal claims that the godman called him to his house and threatened him with elimination if he tried to link him to Rajiv's assassination.
To shore up his credentials, Dalal has presented a taped conversation between him and Chandraswami to the Jain Commission, in which the godman threatened to get him killed if he disclosed anything about his role in Rajiv's assassination. Interestingly, Dalal's version has the backing of some officials connected to the investigations as well. Intelligence and security agencies involved in the probe say there was a striking pattern in at least two attempts made on Rajiv's life: the presence of Chandraswami in the US and Britain and finally Sriperumbudur, where the 'hit' was achieved.
The first attempt was made in January 1985, barely months after Rajiv took over as prime minister and was scheduled to visit the US. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) picked up Gurpratap Singh Birk, Lal Singh, Sukhvinder Singh, Virendra Singh and Amand Singh from a New Orleans hotel. They were being trained at the Frank Camper School, an 'institute' funded by the American government to train CIA operatives and mercenaries. "At the time, when the plot to eliminate Rajiv was uncovered, Chandraswami was present in the US and had some connection with the World Sikh Conference held in London earlier that year," says a senior official connected with the investigations. The accused were charged with a conspiracy to prepare and take part in a "military enterprise" against India and assassinate Rajiv. Birk was convicted for seven years.
According to details available with the Jain Commission, the next major attempt to kill Rajiv was in London on October 14, 1985. The commission has pointed out in its report that the Scotland Yard and British intelligence got wind of the plot just days before Rajiv arrived in Britain on a two-day visit. Two undercover agents were sent by the Yard to contact Jarnail Singh Ranuana, vice-president of the Guru Nanak gurdwara in Leicester. About 15 persons were picked up for questioning.
The British police charged Ranuana, Parmatma Singh Marwah and Sukhvinder Singh Gill for conspiring to kill Rajiv Gandhi and "persuading, encouraging and proposing to the two British undercover agents (posing as IRA men) to murder Rajiv Gandhi". During the course of investigations, the British police found out that Ranuana gave one of the agents a detailed programme of Rajiv's visit. It was discovered Ranuana had promised the undercover police agent £60,000 for killing Rajiv and a safehouse in London after the hit was achieved. The agent was also given a .38 revolver and 17 cartridges to execute the operation.
Says former Union minister K.K. Tewary: "This is a point I have always emphasised. The killing of Rajiv was masterminded by Chandraswami in collusion with international agencies. In fact, I would even say that Rajiv's killing could be linked to Indira's murder. It is much the same people who were involved." But all this remains in the realm of conjecture. In the coming months, if justice Jain finally does submit his report dealing with the conspiracy,probably some light could be shed on what went into the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.