July 04, 2020
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The Deadly Duo

Crucial evidence linking Chandraswami to the Rajiv case went missing from Rao's PMO. Outlook investigates.

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The Deadly Duo
  • File No. 8-1-WR/JSS/90/Vol.III—containing notings of bureaucrats regarding security arrangements for Rajiv Gandhi from November '89—was lost from the PMO in '91. Later, it was doctored and reconstructed by the Narasimha Rao government before it was submitted to the Jain Commission.

  • File No. 1/12014/5/91-IAS/DIII reported missing since 1995. It pertained to the terms of reference of the Verma and Jain commissions of inquiry.
  • File containing intercepted messages from foreign intelligence agencies, said to be addressed to Chandraswami and Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, destroyed by senior officials in the PMO.

  • File on IB's assessment of the role played by Zail Singh and Chandraswami in 1987 to topple Rajiv Gandhi missing.
  • File with records of official briefings by intelligence agencies on the assassination to Rao's home minister S.B. Chavan missing. The former minister con-firms he was briefed orally.

  • The April 20, 1991, wireless intercept with the leading question—should Rajiv be killed in Delhi or Madras?—missing.
  • File relating to the Rao government's attempt to wind up the Jain Commission is still withheld from the panel.

DO these files/messages and other sensitive information—categorised as untraceable, missing, destroyed or "cannot be revealed" due to security reasons—hold the key to the mystery that shrouds Rajiv Gandhi's assassination? The Jain Commission thinks so. The AICC has been pressing for these files and documents. And intelligence officials admit in private that vital evidence seems to have been suppressed to ensure that the larger conspiracy behind the May 21, 1991, assassination does not come to light.

It is these missing files, documents and intercepts that have kept alive the basic question—Who killed Rajiv Gandhi? Who participated, plotted or silently abetted in the act? Right through his five-year term, Narasimha Rao fuelled the intrigue by losing, misplacing, reconstructing, denying the existence and even allegedly destroying key files. His government did everything it could to place stumbling-blocks and even allegedly tried to wind up the Jain Commission inquiring into the conspiracy.

After interviewing serving and retired IB, RAW, CBI and home ministry officials, Outlook has learned that the Rao government's extreme reluctance to part with crucial files and wireless intercepts seems to have been aimed at protecting god-man Chandraswami, whose links with international arms traders is an open secret. Whenever the trail led to him, every effort was made by the government not to cooperate with the Jain Commission.Accordingly, the file on Chandraswami's links with the LTTE prior to the assassination was never made available to the commission. Says AICC-appointed lawyer R.N. Mittal, closely associated with the Jain Commission proceedings: "At every stage, we have been denied documents. Our investigations have been like a personal effort against all odds." Political circles are well aware of the reason why Chandraswami was being protected. The godman has close links with Rao—the two have been friends for 25 years. It's common knowledge that the tantrik was treated as a VIP when Rao was PM and had special access to Rao's official residence, 7 Race Course Road.

Reliable sources say when the commission, in the face of resistance from the government, insisted that it be provided certain documents, Rao ordered a 'sorting' operation. A top Cabinet Secretariat official was asked to divide the documents into three categories: innocuous ones which could be passed on to the commission; documents on which privilege could be claimed before handing them over; and highly sensitive intelligence reports, wireless intercepts and other documents which could not be given to the commission at any cost.

The crucial third category, say sources, contained wireless intercepts of messages from foreign intelligence agencies to Chandraswami and Subramanian Swamy. These were passed on by RAW to the Cabinet Secretariat. A RAW official confirmed to the Jain Commission that the transcripts had indeed been passed on by the intelligence agency.

What did some of these missing files have? Intelligence sources say one file contained intercepted messages as well as details of the movements of Subramanian Swamy and Chandraswami on assassination day. It also contains a crucial intercept from Jaffna to LTTE operatives saying that funds had been provided for carrying out the assassination. It refers to a 'godman' having made the payment.

Interestingly, the fact that the Rao government had actually doctored a file came to light when Vinod Pande, who was cabinet secretary in the V.P. Singh government, deposed before the Jain Commission that file No. 8-1-WR/JSS/90/Vol.III—in which he had made notings on Rajiv Gandhi's security—had been tampered with. "The file which has been placed in my hands does not contain an office copy of my note dated January 30, 1990. The first five paras of the draft note are not mine," Pande told the commission.

Hard pressed, the Rao government had to give an explanation. It told the commission that the file had been missing since 1991. It had been sent to the PMO on July 27, 1991, and had since disappeared. P. Chidambaram, the minister in charge of the assassination investigation and probes, told the commission that despite "going over with a toothcomb" in the PMO, home ministry as well as the Prime Minister's residence, the file had not been located and therefore had to be reconstructed. Strangely, it took the government four years to own up that it had submitted a file which was not the original.

Clearly, had the Jain Commission not demanded these files and documents, it would have been given a free run by Rao to continue with its slow, meandering enquiry. Indeed, with the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the CBI restricted to inquiring into the actual killing and the larger conspiracy left to the Jain Commission, nothing much was expected to emerge. But it was Jain's insistence that the commission be given access to the suppressed files that made Rao panic and provoked his subsequent cover-up operation.

Details available with Outlook suggest there were enough intercepts with Indian intelligence agencies which revealed that a 'hit' on Rajiv was imminent. On April 20, 1991, RAW intercepted a message from Jaffna with the leading question: should Rajiv be killed in Delhi or Madras? Four days before Rajiv was killed, the same intelligence agency intercepted what is regarded as the LTTE's final okay to its team led by Sivarasan, or the One-eyed Jack. The message came in an eight-line Tamil doggerel identifying the place and timing of the assault. The message was conveyed to the IB headquarters in Delhi, but unfortunately for Rajiv, it was a weekend and the doggerel was decoded much after the damage was done.

But there had been enough warnings that there was a larger plot to kill Rajiv. Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), had warned Rajiv of an international plot to assassinate him. He had conveyed this information to the then prime minister, Chandra Shekhar. But no follow-up investigation was ever carried out.

According to a PLO spokesperson contacted by Outlook , Arafat had "concrete information" about the plot. His source: "people in Lebanon and Europe". Arafat, through his ambassador in Delhi, Khalid El Sheikh, had conveyed this message: "My sources in the Middle East and Europe told me that LTTE and Sikh organisations are planning to kill Rajiv Gandhi during his election campaign in May." Sheikh had met Rajiv on March 13, 1991. A week later he called on the Congress president with a letter from Arafat. And a fortnight before the assassination, he called on Rajiv yet again.

Arafat provided details of the conspiracy to Chandra Shekhar when he attended Rajiv's funeral. The Indian ambassador to one of the North African countries was asked to contact Arafat. The then foreign secretary, Muchkund Dubey, was also sent to see Arafat separately. In this June 1991 meeting, Arafat confirmed the international conspiracy. Dubey and the ambassador then filed a report on their meetings with the PLO chairman. But, again, no action was taken on this lead. When asked about the files by Justice Jain, Rao feigned ignorance: "I don't remember about it. This matter was not brought to my notice."

Meanwhile, the report of William Carry, who headed a US Senate subcommittee to probe the BCCI bank scam, confirms the bank had accounts of arms dealers Adnan Khashoggi and Ernie Miller. Both are known 'disciples' of Chandraswami. Crucially, the Carry report also notes that $84 million was transferred to the LTTE from these accounts. Carry says the money was used for the Rajiv assassination. Senate investigations also revealed that Mossad, CIA and LTTE had accounts in the BCCI.

Interestingly, in a statement before the commission, R. Velusami, the then president of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Janata Party, contended that Subramanian Swamy had checked into the Trident Hotel in Madras while Chandraswami was lodged at the Sindoori Hotel owned by Apollo Hospitals on May 21, the day Rajiv was assassinated. Both left for Bangalore by car through Sriperumbudur before reaching Delhi on a special flight.

He told Outlook: "May I also state that Dr Swamy went via Sriperumbudur and stopped at the venue of the meeting, ostensibly to look at the role of Margatham Chandrasekhar—Congress' candidate in the parliamentary polls, for whom Rajiv went to campaign in Sriperumbudur—in selecting the site. I declare that Swamy told me about the role played by one JP Builders in persuading Margatham Chandrasekhar in selecting the site (for the Rajiv meeting)."

Velusami claims he called Swamy's residence in Delhi at 10.45 am on May 21 and Swamy's wife told him that he was indeed in Madras. Recalls Velusami: "My efforts to reach him proved futile. According to senior party colleagues, Dr Swamy had an hour-long meeting with S.C. Chandrahasan, a Sri Lankan Tamil ideologue, at Hotel Trident before he vacated the room and proceeded to meet Chandraswami at Hotel Sindoori, owned by Chandraswami's disciple Dr Prathap Reddy. While I could confirm that a room was booked for Dr Swamy on May 21 at Trident, I could not get any details about Chandraswami's stay. Sindoori never maintains any document to show Chandraswami's visits and he stays there as a personal guest of Prathap Reddy."

Swamy has been denying that he was in Madras on May 21. But his Tamil Nadu unit chief has given details of his itinerary. Stated Velusami before the Jain Commission: "Dr Swamy admits arriving at Madras on 19.5.91. He admits travelling with me by my car and he admits that we had a halt at Kancheepuram and that I was his translator. He admits that I was with him at Salem at 8.30 pm in the evening on 20.5.91 and that I was his translator in the Salem town meeting. He admits that he was to return to Madras on May 22 and then fly to Madurai via Trichy and that I was to join him at Trichy. He is, however, silent on where he stayed in Madras on the morning of the 21st and how long he stayed there. But in the next paragraph of the affidavit, Swamy does a volte face: 'On 21. 5.91, I was not in Madras at all or in Bangalore or indeed in south India but I was in Delhi'."

He continues: "The issue is, while Swamy contends he gave a statement to the Delhi PTI on May 21, he is very vague about his time of arrival at Delhi. The facts are very clear from even the available documents. He was with me well past midnight on the 20th, which is actually the wee hours of the 21st. It takes six hours to reach Madras by road. If he had reached Delhi by any morning flight, there would be any number of records to show the flight and its time of departure. I have already given proof that a room was booked in Dr Swamy's name at Trident." It's significant that there were several attempts to keep the conspiracy angle out of the ambit of a probe into the assassination. When the Chandra Shekhar regime, in which Swamy was law minister, appointed the Verma commission of inquiry, its scope was limited to investigating the security lapses.

The more closely one examines the Rajiv assassination case, the curiouser it becomes. For instance, the most significant evidence with the SIT linking the LTTE to the assassination are photographs clicked by Haribabu, the photographer who also died in the blast. The first pictures released by the SIT to the media showed three women—Kokila, a 15-year-old who wanted to recite a Hindi poem to Rajiv, her mother, and Dhanu, later identified as the human bomb. It was only after the DMK organ,

Murasoli , reproduced the picture with a caption—"where is the missing man"—that the SIT reproduced the full frame. The missing man turned out to be Sivarasan. No explanations were offered as to why the SIT masked part of the frame.

Even more intriguing is the role played by SIT DIG Srikumar, who had gone to London to collect additional information on the witnesses as well as the background of some of the accused. He not only failed to make any progress, but also had his briefcase snatched . The case contained vital information about the LTTE's arms procurement and delivery routes, their pointsmen in Europe and their nexus with global arms dealers.

When the SIT arrested key witness Mirasudar Shanmugam on July 17, 1991, it chanced upon messages and transcripts of some coded messages. Shanmugam, according to the chargesheet, received Sivarasan and his killer squad on the TN coast on May 1, 1991. The coded messages spoke not only about the assassination, but also about the high-level people connected with the plot. Shanmugam escaped from SIT custody and hung himself from a tree under mysterious circumstances. K. Mohandas, a former DGP of Tamil Nadu, says Shanmugam's case was a clear murder and that the CBI had done a clumsy cover-up job. "Shanmugam was wearing a (white) dhoti when he was taken for interrogation. How come when his body was found, he was wearing a lungi?" he asks.

The circumstances leading to the 'suicide' of the main accused, Sivarasan or One-eyed Jack—for whom a high-pitched manhunt had been launched across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka—on the outskirts of Bangalore are equally mysterious. While the other accused, Shubha, and Sivarasan both reportedly consumed cyanide, in classic LTTE manner, Sivarasan also seemed to have shot himself. But according to state intelligence sources, ASHOK VAHIE Sivarasan knew too much and there is a possibility that the bullet wounds were not self-inflicted. The case gets curiouser—Sivarasan's body was immediately cremated, while Shubha's was preserved as an exhibit.

It becomes clear from this sequence of events that most of the key players in the actual plotting and execution of the killing have died under mysterious circumstances. And with the main accused, LTTE chief Prabhakaran, still ensconced in LTTE strongholds in northern Lanka, the SIT has none of the crucial players in the case in custody. Adding to this mess is the cover-up orchestrated by the Rao regime. Rao's persistent amnesia before the Jain Commission on the question of taking action on the Verma panel's observation on official lapses makes interesting reading: "I would not be able to say off-hand what all happened in connection with the steps taken for the implementation of the action taken report. The job was entrusted to a group of ministers. I expected them to do the needful. I do not remember whether there was any timeframe for the group of ministers. As per reports, there was a stalemate. So the matter came up before the cabinet. What decision the cabinet took, it is a matter of record I do not remember."

Interestingly, a PIL was filed in the Delhi high court by a little-known lawyer, Mushtaq Ahmed, demanding the scrapping of the Jain Commission. After this was turned down, the central government approached the Supreme Court with a special leave petition (SLP). When questioned about this by the commission, Rao said: "The PIL initiated in the Delhi high court did not come to my knowledge. This question must have been looked into by P. Chidambaram and thereafter SLPs were filed. If Chidambaram wanted to consult me, he could have but Chidambaram did not consult me." However, it is well known that Chidambaram, who was made minister in charge of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe, was acting on Rao's instructions. Ahmed's PIL, according to political circles, also had the blessings of the then prime minister.

An important missing link is the file containing records of official briefings to the then home minister, S.B. Chavan, when he talked about the involvement of the CIA in the assassination. Not surprisingly, Chavan's stand on the subject was at complete variance with what Rao had to say. Said Chavan in his affidavit before the Jain Commission: "The LTTE was just an instrument in the hands of some foreign powers." Then reacting to a charge made by former Congress minister K.K. Tewary, who has been meticulously following the Jain Commission's proceedings, Chavan said: "The general impression which K.K. Tewary gave is not altogether wrong because there are forces who were trying to create destabilising conditions."

In the ongoing snafu, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) chose to deny the home minister's statement that the Americans were involved in the killing. Chavan told the commission: "It is correct that the very day the American ambassador in India met the prime minister, the foreign minister and the foreign secretary and the spokesperson of the MEA held a press conference and contradicted the statement regarding (the) involvement of a superpower. It is abnormal that a spokesperson of the MEA held the press conference contradicting my statement." Then again: "I am still of the view that some foreign power is involved. It is not the job of the LTTE. The general impression is that some other powers may be involved."

Whether the LTTE acted on its own or whether there was an international conspiracy is still a grey area—Justice Jain has not been able to make any definite conclusion about this aspect. But the manner in which Rao sought to hold back information from the Jain Commission, coupled with the shoddy investigation, indicates there was a concerted attempt to protect key players. Evidence is absent, but join up the blank spaces and a pattern emerges.

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