January 20, 2020
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Fact And Mythology

The Jain and Verma panels have not made much headway

Fact And Mythology

IN many ways, the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe is truly open-ended. The Jain Commission is already on its fourth extension. Along the way, it has talked to scores of ‘eyewitnesses’, conspiracy theorists and politicians, both Rajiv acolytes and baiters. This has led to a ‘yo-yo’ syndrome.

Mani Shankar Aiyar is at one end of the spectrum, saying V.P. Singh should be made responsible for the killing. Singh, on his part, held the Congress guilty for the security lapse that led to the assassination. The result is the same. There are as many theories as there are dramatis personae. And five-and-a-half years down the line, the Commission is yet to begin formal ‘investigations’; till now, it has been only examining evidence.

Naturally, the Jain Commission is looking at all possible angles. ‘Eyewitness’ accounts have tended to swing wildly on a sort of regional axis. An Akali leader blamed Sikh extremists for plotting the assassination in London, another witness went as far as Kashmiri militants and even North-east insurgents. Just about any theory is welcome, if it helps unravel the truth, but just how close is the Commission to it is open to doubt.

The Verma Commission, probing the security lapse, held two officials responsible. Former IB chief M.K. Narayanan, and former home secretary R.K. Bhargava. When the infighting in the Congress became particularly virulent, with Sonia loyalists demanding a quick end to the ongoing probe, a subcommittee headed by Arjun Singh recommended action against four more ex-bureaucrats: Shiromani Sharma, home secretary for three months in 1989-90, former cabinet secretary Vinod Pandey, G.S. Vajpayee and R.P. Joshi, former secretary (security) and IB chief respectively. Naresh Chandra, cabinet secretary at the time of the killing, was left out.

It was only after they got a favourable verdict from the courts that the government agreed there was no prima facie case against the officials, most of whom were put in the dock over the removal of the SPG cover for Rajiv. S.B. Chavan, then home minister, told the Lok Sabha that the removal of SPG cover was a Cabinet decision.

If former officials became pawns in the hands of bickering Congressmen, the record of politicians was dismal. It took two years and a lot of public pressure before the AICC condescended to present its crucial affidavit before the Verma Commission. And when it finally did, it was at total variance with the TNCC affidavit.

Many believe the Verma panel was just not given all the papers required for conducting its probe. The result: some crucial elements like the role of Tamil Nadu police and local Congress activists had been left out. The Commission had to depend on affidavits, like the one filed by Sonia loyalist Ahmed Patel blaming V.P. Singh. But, then, Singh had been out of power for a full six months before the human bomber got Rajiv. What did the subsequent government, totally dependent on the Congress for survival, do about amending the SPG Act till then?

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