May 31, 2020
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Interim Alarm Bells

The panel's 2,000-page report could herald a flare-up between the UF and the Congress

Interim Alarm Bells

THE Justice M.C. Jain Commission probing the Rajiv Gandhi assassination may take more than a year still to complete its final report, but its interim report submitted to the government on August 27 seems all set to trigger off a political crisis. This is bound to have a bearing on the Congress-United Front relationship, which is so vital for the survival of the I.K. Gujral government.

Gujral's efforts to buy at least another year's support from Congress president Sitaram Kesri may suffer a blow. For, the interim report projects Gujral's one-time mentor V.P. Singh, besides the DMK which is a key constituent of the UF, as being responsible for the circumstances that led to Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. Besides, among those who tried to stall the commission's probe is P. Chidambaram, who sought to have the panel scrapped.

Predictably, the Congress wants the UF to make suitable amends. "We certainly want action taken on this, whatever be the price," says Kerala PCC chief Vyalar Ravi. The price, according to many Congress leaders, may be Karunanidhi and Chidambaram's heads. And failure to act against them, they say, could mean the demise of the Gujral government.

Immediately after the interim report was submitted to Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta, Arjun Singh discussed the issue with Kesri and both came to the conclusion that the issue was 'beyond compromise'. Arjun, who made the apathy of the P.V. Narasimha Rao government in pursuing the probe an excuse for quitting the Congress in December 1995, has Sonia Gandhi's support in raising the issue.

Interestingly, for six years the Jain Commission of Inquiry (JCI), set up to investigate the larger conspiracy behind Rajiv's assassination on May 21, 1991, was not taken seriously. But the 2,300-page interim report, which contains the depositions of a wide range of witnesses and inputs from reluctant intelligence agencies, has already set alarm bells ringing in the government.

Sources in the Home Ministry say the interim findings are damaging. They not only track down the exact circumstances which enabled the LTTE to strengthen its network in the country through a local support system even after a change in the Indian government's policy towards the Tigers in 1987, but also shows deliberate acts of negligence by successive governments at the Centre and in Tamil Nadu. The report also reveals a conspiracy to wind up the commission by the Rao government.

What emerges, say Home Ministry officials studying the report, is a glaring indictment of senior political leaders and bureaucrats in taking decisions which helped the LTTE to operate openly and plan out the assassination in Tamil Nadu. Besides, the report shows an abject failure on the part of decision-makers at the Centre in assessing the threat to Rajiv's life.

Ministry officials are particularly worked up about Jain's indictment of some leaders of the ruling UF government. For instance:

  •  Chidambaram, then responsible for monitoring Rajiv's security, has been held culpable for failing to appreciate the threat to Rajiv's life and advise the government to tighten security. He has also been indicted for being party to the Rao government's bid to wind up the JCI when under his orders—between May 1995 and May 1996—the government filed repeated written objections challenging the jurisdiction of the panel.

  • Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karuna nidhi has been indicted for not responding to the Centre's policy of opposing the LTTE and extending overt help to it which helped the squad of assassins to establish a communication network within the state.
  •  V.P. Singh has been indicted for taking an imprudent and politically motivated decision in withdrawing the SPG security for Rajiv Gandhi and for his inaction in stemming LTTE activities on Indian soil.

    But what is likely to upset the precarious political balance at the Centre most are the commission's comments on the role of the DMK government. The DMK has so far adopted the stand that it was "merely continuing the earlier policy of extending support to Sri Lankan Tamils".

    Depositions and intelligence records made available to the JCI show that, till 1987, the state government toed the Centre's line in assuaging Sri Lankan Tamils. The policy changed with the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord in 1987, when the Centre continued to negotiate with the LTTE diplomatically but refused any military support. So, Karunanidhi's meetings with LTTE leaders in 1989 were in consonance with the Centre's policy, but his overt help to LTTE operatives in the state could be construed as 'anti-national'.

    GIVEN the fact that post-1987 the LTTE had turned extremely offensive towards India—in December 1989, a customs officer and his crew were abducted by the Tigers; in January 1990, a shooting incident by LTTE militants in Pattikatham claimed the life of a constable and a civilian; and in June 1990, EPRLF leader K. Padmanabha was assassinated along with seven Indians—the DMK government's continued support to the LTTE and its inaction in dealing with the militants assumes significance.

    What makes the DMK's role even murkier is former Tamil Nadu home secretary R. Nagarajan's testimony, in which he told the JCI that in July 1990 Karunanidhi issued oral instructions to him to ensure that the Tamil Nadu police did not pursue Padmanabha's killers. Later investigations by the Special Investigative Team revealed that six of these were key conspirators in Rajiv's murder.

    Further, intelligence records show that:

  •  In the year prior to the assassination, the Tamil Nadu government extended support to the Tigers which led to the establishment of at least 40 landing points for LTTE ships along the Indian coast; helped the LTTE in maintaining an elaborate clandestine communication network and establish active cadres in about 26 bases in the state. Besides, the DMK government undertook medical treatment of LTTE militants injured during the IPKF operation in Jaffna. This is construed not as a humanitarian gesture but a medical management of enemy troops.
  •  With the tacit support of the DMK regime in 1990, a reverse flow of manpower started to Sri Lanka. Sympathisers were picked up by the LTTE in batches, taken to Jaffna, trained, given arms, communication equipment and finances and sent back to India. An outfit called the Tamil National Retrieval Troops (TNRT) was formed, which operated as a front agency for the LTTE in Tamil Nadu. Incidentally, two TNRT members were directly involved in Rajiv's assassination and have been chargesheeted in the case.
  •  Records show that arms and explosive devices were being manufactured by the LTTE in Coimbatore during the DMK'S tenure. Intelligence reports say the LTTE was making use of the services of some private lathe and foundry-owners to fabricate parts needed for manufacturing and assembling shells, grenades and light machine guns.

    Significantly, the JCI has brought some Congress politicians under its dragnet, given that some local sympathisers who collaborated with the LTTE in establishing their base belonged to the Congress. Depositions made by various witnesses highlight the role played by Anjaneya Narayan, brother of Karnataka Congress member Ashwat

    Narayan, in the conspiracy. According to these depositions, Anj-aneya's house in Bangalore was rented to Ranganathan, an accused in the Rajiv case. For a fortnight after the killing, Ranganathan and key conspirator Siva-rasan sought refuge in the house. And in July 1991, Ashwat and his brother located and rented out two more hideouts for Trichy Santhan and other LTTE cadre involved in the assassination. Rao too has been charged with deliberately obstructing the inquiry; failure in adequately reacting to issues like banning the LTTE and chauvinist groups like the DK and the PMK; and for four years delaying a proposal seeking extradition of Prabhakaran.

    Similarly, former prime minister Chandra Shekhar has been accused of deliberately ignoring intelligence reports personally given to him, which indicated an international conspiracy. On June 7, 1991, the IB received information that a month before the killing Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, had received intelligence information from sources in Israel and Europe about a serious threat to Rajiv Gandhi's life during the election campaign. According to Arafat's information, agencies like the CIA,the LTTE and Mossad were the conspirators. The Indian agencies also had specific information that this was conveyed directly to Chandra Shekhar by the Palestinian ambassador to India.

    The precise motivations behind such decisions will be clear only after Jain finally cracks the conspiracy behind the assassination. But if the interim report is any indicator, that shouldn't take too long. Says a visibly confident Jain: "The remaining enquiry into the conspiracy aspect will be done in the next six months." Which will keep most of India's political establishment on tenterhooks.

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