It's always easier to review a book once it's placed in the relevant genre. In the case of literature, a reviewer looks for fresh insight into human predicaments. In the case of a murder mystery, it's the narrative discipline that grips the attention of a reader as well as that of the reviewer.
Dr Subramanian Swamy's latest book, The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries, is a mystery novel in disguise. The working title for one of the finest mystery novels, The Name of the Rose, was The Abbey of the Crime. Umberto Eco rejected it on the grounds that "it concentrates the reader's attention entirely on the mystery story and might mislead purchasers looking for an action-packed yarn." The Name of the Rose was a philosophical inquiry that masqueraded as a mystery novel. In Swamy's case, it's the turn of a poorly structured mystery novel to masquerade as an investigative book that purports to unearth the hidden truths behind the murder of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. His title focuses purely on his agenda: to deflect and refract the questions posed to him after May 21, 1991, the day the human bomb felled Rajiv Gandhi.
Despite using the real names of people, dead and alive, Swamy fails to convince the reader that his writing is factual. The book assumes that Swamy, and Swamy alone, is a good human being while the rest are crooks. He pours scorn and venom on journalists, politicians and former bureaucrats. Even the senior Shankaracharya of Kanchi math does not escape. But little of this is new: any journalist who has followed Swamy over the last decade will vouch that the book is nothing but a compilation of various statements made in innumerable press conferences.
Inquiries should be conducted with a certain humility; but no one could accuse Swamy of possessing that trait. He gleefully talks about himself on almost every page. On page 42: "...in finance, where I had formal education from the best place in the world: Harvard." Or on page 3: "Once when somebody asked him (Rajiv Gandhi) why he was giving me so much importance since I was a one-MP party, he retorted that in Parliament I was equal to one hundred MPs." It's not possible to be partisan while looking into a big issue like the assassination of a former prime minister. History cannot be distorted; the facts cannot be buried six feet under. But that is precisely what Swamy has done in this book.
The distortion begins from the first chapter, "The Unholy Interregnum" (1989-91), itself. "Morally," Swamy writes, "Rajiv Gandhi was not wrong in signing the Agreement. The Tamil representatives without exception (Swamy's emphasis) took the stand, after the talks had ended in failure, that they would agree to a compromise only if India became a party to an Accord, and guaranteed its implementation." The truth is that at no time did any Tamil group abrogate their right to be the signatories. Everyone who covered the Thimpu talks knew the Tamil stand: that India should be a guarantor and not the signatory. The flaw with the Indo-Sri Lankan accord signed by Rajiv Gandhi was that the Tamils were not a signatory; it was an accord between India and Sri Lanka in which Tamils had no say.
The crucial issue that Swamy fails to address are the questions posed to him by various people. In January 1991, Swamy played the key role in dismissing Karunanidhi's government on the grounds of the ltte infiltration in Tamil Nadu. During Karunanidhi's rule, Rajiv Gandhi made 13 visits to Tamil Nadu between 1989 and 1991 and came to no harm. When the state came under President's rule in January 1991, Swamy had become the de-facto chief minister. Every day he used to declare that he had wiped out the LTTE's presence in the state. It was in the fifth month of Swamy's rule that Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Tamil Nadu. Why is he not acknowledging this simple fact?
Swamy castigates Rogan Gunaratne for writing an anti-Indian book, Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka. Gunaratne alleges here that on behalf of two ltte Tamils, Swamy tried to promote the cause of Eelam with both the Israel and the US governments. Swamy writes: "This book of Shri Rogan Gunaratne which I again denied in cross-examination, reflects the typical stupidity of Sinhalese in regarding every Tamil as LTTE." But he does not hesitate to quote the same author, name spelled this time as Rohan Gunaratna, to prove a point that the ltte has prepared a blueprint to blow up India's nuclear reactors.
This duplicity does not end here. Swamy praises Justice Jain when it suits his theory and admonishes the Jain commission when it makes a few observations that go against his hypothesis. And where does the evidence for his grand theory emanate from? His own letters, his speeches in Parliament, his deposition before the Jain commission, media reports and published documents. This renders Swamy's every sentence suspect, and ensures that his book fails even as a murder mystery, providing no solutions.