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Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi Revisited
by Sachi Sri Kantha, May 10, 2011
May 21st marks the 20th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the prime minister of India from 1984 to 1989. Among my book collections on President John F. Kennedy's assassination (which only amount to a dozen, among the hundreds already published), was the book ‘The Ruby Cover-Up’ (1992) by journalist Seth Kantor (1926-1993). It was originally published as ‘Who was Jack Ruby?’ (1978). According to Kantor’s obituary that appeared in the New York Times, at the time of President Kennedy assassination, Kantor was affiliated to the the Scripps-Howard chain of newspapers as the Washington correspondent. He was also one of the journalists who was in President Kennedy’s media entourage to Dallas. Reading Kantor’s book prompted me to study the Sivarasan angle in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.
Consider this equivalent. In President Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, the assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald, who himself was assassinated by Jack Ruby, two days later on November 24, 1963. In Rajiv Gandhi's assassination that happened on May 21, 1991, the assassin was ‘Dhanu’ (who instantly died during the assassination), who was handled by Sivarasan. As the links of Jack Ruby to various sinister characters have been traced by many Americans, Sivarasan’s links to similar sinister characters have only been partially hinted, but still remain hidden.
I provide the pro and con views relating to the LTTE’s involvement in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. The 'Pro' view as it appeared in the India Today magazine, before Sivarasan’s death, was authored by Anirudhya Mitra; but, one can easily assume that it received the full endorsement of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), then headed by D.R. Kartigeyan. What I find intriguing is that the article mentions that, “Shivarasan then selected his human bombs – Dhanu alias Gayatri and Shubha alias Shalini, two women members of the LTTE’s shadow squad. Incidentally, both the girls happened to be his cousins.” This contradicts with the ‘confessions’ extricated by the SIT team from other accused that when it came to decision-making on who should be the assassin (in other occasions), Prabhakaran made the final decision. If Sivarasan was in charge of selecting the human bombs for the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, the responsibility of Prabhakaran for this job was marginal at best.
Also, make a note that according to this account, three times Sivarasan had crossed the Palk Strait cavalierly, before the assassination. He left for Madras from Jaffna in the first week of March 1991. Then, returned to Jaffna. Then, within a week, returned again to Madras on May 2, 1991 with Dhanu (the assassin) and Subha (substitute assassin), according to D.R. Kartikeyan and Radhavinod Raju. If this was the pattern, how come he opted not to return to Jaffna immediately after the assassination, during the 8 days of ‘window period’, before his photo was splashed in the Indian print media? Kartigeyan and Raju, in their 2004 book on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, state that “On May 29, Sivarasan’s photograph was published for the first time in the media.” (page 67). After all, Sivarasan had successfully completed the ‘mission’ for which he was chosen. That he was hopping around for three months (June, July and August 1991) in South India, before being cornered in Bangalore, tells us that his non-LTTE sponsors wanted him to be in India!
The 'Con' view presented by Dr. Norman Baker, which appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India one year after Sivarasan’s death, offered some serious questions relating to the activity and movements of Sivarasan.
To supplement these portrayals of Sivarasan, I also include two interesting features, in which the ‘know-all Tamil journalist’ D.B.S.Jeyaraj played a lead role. The first item, provides background information on Sivarasan written after his death by D.B.S.Jeyaraj in 1991. This item first appeared in the Frontline (Madras) magazine, and was republished in the Lanka Guardian (Colombo) in Sept.15, 1991. To the best of my knowledge, this remains as the one of the good published treatments about Sivarasan’s career upto May 1991. Before reading this item, please read my comment relating to Jeyaraj’s description of the caste group to which Sivarasan belonged. However, I’m unable to confirm the veracity of some of the details presented by Jeyaraj, relating to when Sivarasan joined the LTTE, and the reasons why the LTTE accommodated him, how he “became a senior member of the LTTE” and got “promoted” as the “acting Vadamarachchi commander”. The second item also was linked to the first item penned by D.B.S.Jeyaraj in 1991. This unsigned item appeared in the Tamil Times of April 1999, just before the Supreme Court verdict on the appeal of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case was delivered. It cryptically mentions that the 1991 item by Jeyaraj “had been written on the request of Sivarasan’s relatives in Canada who wanted something written about him in the papers so that he would not be ‘forgotten’. Much of the information was supplied by them. The articles had nothing whatsoever about Sivarasan’s involvement in Rajiv’s killing and in any case was published only after his death.”
Rajiv Assassination: The Inside Story
by Anirudhya Mitra
[source: India Today, July 15, 1991, pp. 22-29]
[Note: The spellings of the names have been retained, as they appeared in the original.]
One month after the brutal assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the crack special investigation team (SIT) has managed to edge considerably closer to unraveling the complex plot behind the shocking crime that stunned the nation.
The exhaustive investigation process and interrogation of key suspects picked up so far have established that the plot to kill Rajiv Gandhi was first hatched in October 1990 deep in the jungles of Jaffna. The motive is now understood to have been related to the political tremors then emanating from New Delhi. The then prime minister V.P. Singh was battling for survival following a threat by the BJP to withdraw support to his minority National Front government. Across the Palk Straits, in the forest hide-outs of Jaffna in north-eastern Sri Lanka, the LTTE leadership met for a crucial assessment of the situation. The meeting decided that the chances of Congress (I) president Rajiv Gandhi returning to power were now almost certain. For the extremist organization struggling for Tamil Eelam, this meant a possible re-induction of the IPKF in Sri Lanka and a certain crackdown on the elaborate LTTE network established in Tamil Nadu.
Even before the National Front government finally collapsed, the LTTE had made up its mind to prevent Rajiv Gandhi from regaining power even if it required the ultimate deterrent – his assassination. By early November 1990, the V.P. Singh government was voted out and Rajiv Gandhi was virtually back in power, shooting from behind Chandra Sekhar’s shoulder. The possibility of a mid-term poll loomed ever larger. The LTTE was getting desperate.
Realising that Rajiv as prime minister would be near-impossible target, it was decided that they should strike while his security status was still that of an opposition leader and election campaigning would render him even more vulnerable. In end November, the elusive LTTE supremo Pirabhakaran, having decided on the physical elimination of Rajiv Gandhi, summoned four trusted lieutenants – Baby Subramaniyam, Murugan, Muthuraja and Shivarasan – to finalise the contours of an assassination plot. Subramaniyam and Muthuraja were summoned from Madras where they were staying at the time.
In the first week of December, Pirabhakaran made his decision known to the four members of the team he had summoned. The actual details of the operation were left to them but each was assigned a specific task.
Baby Subramaniyam, a prominent ideologue of the LTTE, was operating from Madras running a printing press publishing LTTE literature. His task was to prepare a back-up team that would arrange shelter for the assassins before and after the killing.
Muthuraja was asked to prepare a base in Madras to ensure proper communication facilities, couriers for messages and the smooth distribution of money for the assassins.
Murugan, a key instructor and an explosive expert of the LTTE, was asked to take over the assignments from Subramaniyam and Muthuraja after their departure for Jaffna.
Shivarasan, the much wanted man today, who has been labeled ‘one-eyed Jack’ was given the most important task – the actual assassination.
The assassination plot received further impetus with the dismissal of the DMK government led by M. Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi’s government was dismissed on grounds of having encouraged the LTTE movement in the state – not entirely baseless as Karunanidhi on his campaign trail, before the assassination, portrayed the fellow Tamils’ cause in Sri Lanka as just and noble.
Imposition of Central rule in Tamil Nadu was a major setback for the LTTE. The decision to dissolve the DMK government – though essentially political and under tremendous pressure from the Congress (I) and the AIADMK – was taken following a series of reports filed by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) revealing the growing informal relationship between the followers of the DMK and the LTTE.
But even though the IB had established Karunanidhi’s sympathy towards the LTTE and its links with the DMK, it was utterly in the dark regarding the extremist group’s plan to liquidate Rajiv Gandhi. The external intelligence organization, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was equally clueless about the existence of the plot.
Meanwhile, by the beginning of 1991, the four lieutenants of Pirabhakaran had already set the plan in motion. Baby Subramaniyam and Muthuraja were back in Madras. Both were engaged in the crucial first stage of the plot – identifying and recruiting local people who would eventually harbor the assassination squad.
A key recruiting centre was a photo agency which had developed into an LTTE hub in Madras. Shubha News and Photo Agency was run by Shubha Sundaram who is considered to be a godfather for most of the budding photographers in Madras. Shubha’s agency was visited by many Dravida Kazhagam (DK) members also. The DK, which is an extremist sibling of the DMK, has been openly sympathetic towards the LTTE.
Muthuraja and Baby Subramaniyam picked their first target – Bhagynathan – a young DK activist from Shubaha’s place. Bhagynathan had expressed ambitions of bringing out a political journal but lack the financial resources. Bhagynathan’s family was heavily steeped in debt and had meager means of support. He himself managed to earn a living by supplying stationery items to a firm where his sister, Nalini, was employed as a secretary. His mother, a nurse, was working in Kalyani Nursing Home.
The crunch came when his mother was asked to vacate the quarter provided by the nursing home authorities. The family was desperate, lack of money meant they could not afford to rent a place to live in Madras. The first recruit for the assassination plot had fallen into the LTTE’s lap. Baby Subramaniyam casually mentioned to Bhagynathan that he was looking for a customer for his printing press as he was thinking of switching to another business. Bhagynathan offered to take over the press provided the price was paid in instalments. Seeing Bhagynathan falling into the trap, Baby readily agreed. He sold the press to Bhagynathan at a ridiculously low price of Rs 5,000 payable in small instalments.
Baby now had also gained access to Bhagynathan’s entire family which had shifted to the area where the press was located. He advised Nalini to help Bhagynathan in his new venture after her normal office hours. The press premises, in any event, offered the perfect cover for a suitable hide-out. The second stage of the operation – recruiting the entire family – had begun. Baby’s strategy of convincing Nalini to help Bhagynathan run the press was starting to pay off. Nalini was exposed to the LTTE literature which was then being churned out and conveyed one key message: Rajiv Gandhi was solely responsible for the ‘crimes’ perpetrated by the IPKF in Sri Lanka.
Nalini was easy to recruit. She was soon working on a book titled Satanic Forces and sub-titled Heinous Crimes of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. The book carried no comment from the LTTE except one innocuous message from Pirabhakaran: ‘Work is worship’. The book itself was merely a compilation of sundry news reports, photographs, cartoons and editorials published in the Indian media about the negative aspects of the IPKF in Sri Lanka and the mishandling of the situation by Rajiv Gandhi’s government.
Meanwhile, the second member of the recruiting team, Muthuraja, had been equally busy in Shubha Sundaram’s agency. Shubha had already received a message from Pirabhakaran to cooperate with Muthuraja in a secret operation of the LTTE for which recruitment of some unknown faces was necessary. Two young photographers, Ravi Shankaran and Haribabu, fitted the requirements. Even though Shubha had fired Haribabu for being inattentive, he was deeply indebted to the LTTE for the financial support they had given him for photographic assignments. Haribabu had joined a new agency, Vigneshwar Video, but was well aware that the money being paid to him was much more than the normal assignment fee.
This was when Muthuraja informed Haribabu that someone who needed to be trained in photography was arriving from Jaffna and would stay with Haribabu as a paying guest. The new entrant in Haribabu’s life, Balan, did much more than allow Haribabu to earn some extra money. He gradually brainwashed the young photographer into believing that Rajiv Gandhi was solely responsible for the brutality inflicted on the Sri Lankan Tamils and that his return to power would mean yet another bout of atrocities.
Back in Jaffna, Murugan was preparing to make his entry onto the stage that had been set by his two accomplices in Madras. The plot was proceeding satisfactorily and according to schedule. After a series of meetings with Shivarasan in Jaffna, Murugan decided to send two young LTTE boys from Shivarasan’s village, Jayakumaran and Robert Pias, to Madras. They arrived in early February. Initially they stayed at Jayakumaran’s brother-in-law Arivu Perulibalan’s house at Savri Nagar Extension in Porur, a suburb of Madras. Arivu, a diploma holder in computer science, had been living in Madras since early 1990. Although a dedicated member of the LTTE, he had played no active role in its subterranean activities till he was approached by Murugan. Arivu’s electronic expertise was to be of deadly significance.
Murugan entered the scene in mid-February when he arrived in Madras. His first move was to shift Pias and Jayakumaran to new accommodation with the help of Arivu who had been told about the ‘special mission’ without disclosing the target. Murugan’s primary task was to give logistical support apart from providing sufficient financial support to all three. By shifting Pias and Jaykumaran to a new residence, he had also provided another hide-out for the team. Pias and Arivu were told to organize a fake licence for a two-wheeler.
In end-February, Muthuraja introduced Murugan to Bhagynathan’s family. By then, Nalini had developed a deep sense of hatred for Rajiv Gandhi at a time when his return to power was becoming imminent. Murugan thus had no problem in finalizing the third hide-out. With three safe shelters, an electronic expert in Arivu who had been asked to improvise a bomb out of grenades that could be detonated by a suicide bomber, three converts in Nalini, Padma and Bhagynathan, and a recruiter in Shubha Sundaram, the plot was in place. Murugan sent a message to Shivarasan in Jaffna asking him to come to Madras. Shivarasan arrived in the first week of March. He first stayed at Pias’ house in Porur where he was given a detailed briefing on the shelters and the people who had been recruited by Muthuraja and Baby Subramaniyam.
Shivarasan’s arrival in Madras completed the elaborate web spun by Pirabhakaran in the jungles of Jaffna for the execution of Rajiv Gandhi. From now on, the key role in the plot would be played by Shivarasan. Everything was working to plan. Shivarasan, himself an expert on explosives, examined Arivu’s design for a human bomb and pronounced it suitable. He asked Baby Subramaniyam and Muthuraja to leave for Sri Lanka as it would not be safe for them to live in India any longer. By the end of March, Muthuraja and Baby Subramaniyam left for Jaffna.
Shivarasan moved to the Bhagynathan household where he discussed the plan with Murugan, Nalini and Bhagynathan. He told them that he had somebody in mind who would act as the human-bomb. He also asked Bhagynathan to look for a photographer who could be trusted. However, the target was still kept secret. Ravi Shankaran and Haribabu, old time friends, were then brought into the picture. Sensing that they were being involved in a specific operation of the LTTE, both realized that they had reached a point of no-return.
The next step was to prove the most fateful – Shivarasan returned to Jaffna to bring back his human-bomb. In Jaffna, he met Pirabhakaran and briefed him on the progress that had taken place in Madras. Pirabhakaran asked Shivarasan to make sure that they undertake dry-runs before the actual operation and ordered that the whole exercise be photographed for his viewing.
Shivarasan then selected his human bombs – Dhanu alias Gayatri and Shubha alias Shalini, two women members of the LTTE’s shadow squad. Incidentally, both the girls happened to be his cousins. He was back in Madras within a week with the two girls in tow. The next step was to procure the explosives (C4 variety of RDX), the same yellow-coloured plastic explosives he had used to kill the EPRLF leader J. Padmanabha. With the LTTE’s vast network in Tamil Nadu, obtaining the explosive was the least of the problems. Shivarasan was now all set to carry out his leaders’ orders – the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
In Madras, Dhanu and Shubha had been taken to Nalini’s house where Murugan was awaiting them. Shivarasan kept the others – Pias, Jaykumaran and Arivu – away from the planning sessions which were to follow. But in a separate meeting, Shivarasan explained to Arivu the specifics of the bomb he required. Without disclosing the operation in detail, he asked for a bomb that could be easily hidden beneath the clothes and fitted around the waist of a female person.
Arivu got down to work and came up with an ingenious design for a belt-bomb. Six grenades could be fitted in a series on the belt. Each grenade would be made up of 80 gm of the C4 RDX (2,800 splinters of 2.0mm each) enclosed within a casing of TNT. The grenades were connected in parallel with silver wires and the circuit was completed with two toggle switches, one for arming and the other for triggering the bomb. The device was charged with a 9 mm battery.
After approving the bomb, Shivarasan instructed Murugan to find a tailor to stitch the vest. Murugan found a local tailor and had the vest made of blue denim, a fabric heavy enough to support the one-kilo bomb. Once the vest was ready, Arivu carefully fixed the bomb onto the vest. The weapon that would reduce Rajiv Gandhi and at least 16 ohters to a mangled heap was now ready to be put to use.
With this, Shivarasan was ready to stage the dry-runs ordered by Pirabhakaran. The first dry-run took place on April 18 at the favourite spot for political rallies – Marina Beach in Madras. Marina Beach was the venue for Rajiv Gandhi’s first campaign meeting in Tamil Nadu which was also addressed by the AIADMK leader Jayalalitha. The meeting was photographed by Ravi Shankaran while Shubha Sundaram’s agency took a video recording. However, the potential assassins did not attempt to get too close to the two leaders. Incidentally, Haribabu, who was present at the trial run along with Ravi Shankaran, had his first inkling that the target was going to be a politician.
The next dry-run was executed on May 12 at a meeting featuring V.P. Singh and Karunanidhi at Thiruvallur in Arkonam, 40 km away from Madras. This time, the exercise was more fruitful as Dhanu was able to touch the feet of V.P. Singh in much the same manner as she would do with Rajiv Gandhi on the fateful night of May 21. This session was also shot on video by the Shubha Photo Agency. The video film is now in possession of the investigating team.
Following two successful rehearsals, Shivarasan now looked for the right opportunity for the actual assassination. Time was running out. The May 21 meeting at Sriperumbudur was announced two days in advance and it provided the best – and the last – opportunity. On the morning of May 20, Shivarasan reached Nalini’s house with a newspaper clipping which detailed Rajiv’s public meetings on May 21 ending at Sriperumbudur that night. The venue was decided.
Ravi Shankaran called Haribabu and asked him to purchase the garland and then meet Shivarasan and others at Nalini’s house on the afternoon of May 21. Haribabu then asked Ravi Shankaran to get him a camera along with a film roll. Ravi Shankaran, instead of giving Haribabu one of his own cameras, borrowed one from a friend Deepak, and gave it to Haribabu along with a Konika colour roll.
The night of May 20 was spent in a relaxed mood. The conspirators watched a film. None of the girls, particularly Dhanu, showed any sign of nervousness. Shubha tried out the denim vest on Dhanu. She also tried on the spectacles she would wear for disguise for the first time. The next day at 4.30 pm, Nalini, Shubha, Dhanu and Shivarasan left for Parry’s Corner for their rendevouz with Haribabu.
At Parry’s Corner, near the main bus stand of Madras city, Haribabu was waiting with the sandalwood garland which he had bought an hour earlier from the state emporium Poompuhar. The five conspirators boarded a bus for Sripeumbudur where they reached around 8 o’clock in the evening.
All five, with Dhanu holding the garland, positioned themselves around the VIP enclosure. At one point, they were questioned by a woman sub-inspector on duty, Anusuya Kumari. Haribabu said he was a press cameraman and was there to take the photograph of the girl (Dhanu) garlanding Rajiv Gandhi. The sub-inspector told them that Rajiv was coming much later and hence there was no need for them to be around so early and the photographer should go to the press enclosure. They moved away. Shubha and Nalini sat in the crowd. Shivarasan took his position near the dais. He carried a pistol as he was the lone member of the back-up team. Dhanu and Haribabu stood close to the red carpet on which Rajiv would walk on his way to the dais.
Rajiv arrived at around 10 pm and was immediately surrounded by people trying to garland him. The sub-inspector, Anusuya, once again tried to prevent Dhanu from getting close to Rajiv. She had almost caught hold of the assassin but for Rajiv Gandhi, who, according to Anusuya, said: “Let everybody get a chance.” Anusuya moved away – thus saving her own life. Dhanu bent down as if she wanted to touch Rajiv’s feet. Rajiv in turn bent to lift her up. Dhanu’s right finger activated the bomb.
Soon after the blast, Nalini and Shubha walked towards the bus stand where they were to meet Shivarasan who told them that Rajiv Gandhi, Dhanu and Haribabu were dead and they better make a getaway. They took an auto-rickshaw till Poonamali from where they took another to reach Shivarasan’s Porur house. Shivarasan rang up Shubha Sundaram and told him that though Haribabu had died in the blast, his camera was intact and Sundaram should try and recover it.
But because of the disturbance in the city, they were confined to the house all through the day. On the night of May 21, Sundaram swung into action. He rang up the house of a photographer, T.Ramamurthy, and was told that Ramamurthy had called from the Poonamali police station to say that he was slightly injured in the blast and would take some time to reach home. Sundaram then rang up the Poonamali police station and asked Ramamurthy if he had brought the camera from Haribabu. Ramamurthy told him that was “not his job”. Meanwhile, Sundaram had informed Ravi Shankaran about the necessity of recovering Haribabu’s camera and the crucial film roll.
By then, the SIT had launched its massive investigation. Officials had visited the Madras General Hospital to get an eyewitness account from the victims. Anusuya gave them a description of some ‘suspicious characters’ she had seen roaming around with the photographer. By then, the photographs taken by Haribabu had been developed. Anusuya’s account had made them suspicious about certain characters featured in the pictures including that of the woman holding a sandalwood garland along with Shivarasan. Next day, Anusuya confirmed that they were the same people she had spotted.
The next morning, the SIT visited the scene of crime where they found parts of Dhanu’s dress, strips of the vest and the belt-bomb she wore with pieces of flesh attached, two toggle switches, wires used in the bomb and a half-burnt 9-volt battery. The experts carried out DNA printing of the pieces of flesh found at the spot. The flesh piece attached to the belt matched with the portion of the woman’s body found. That established convincingly the theory of the assassin being a human-bomb.
Next, the bomb experts of the National Security Guards reconstructed the denim vest and part of the belt. Meanwhile, on May 25, the arrest of an LTTE member, Shankar, at Vedaraniam port, provided another breakthrough. Shankar, when intercepted, told the local police that he had been sent to India by Pirabhakaran in order to kill Varadaraja Perumal who has been given refuge by the Indian Government in Bhopal.
The matter was immediately brought to the notice of the SIT in Madras. Shankar, when shown the pictures taken by Haribabu, identified the kurta-pyjama clad man in the photographs as Raghuvaran, an explosive expert and a trusted lieutenant of Pirabhakaran who was involved in the killing of EPRLF leader Padmanabha. Of the several LTTE activists and sympathizers rounded up for interrogation, one Jagdishan from Vedaraniam also identified the kurta-pyjama clad man as Raghu adding that he had travelled during the Padmanabha killing in his speedboat between Vedaraniam and Point Pedro of Jaffna.
A notebook from Shankaran’s possession carried a Madras telephone number with two names: Nalini and Murugan. The telephone authorities confirmed the identity of the holders of the number. Meanwhile, a study of Padmanabha’s killing revealed that the two unexploded grenades found from the spot contained C4-RDX explosives. The SIT also received a tip-off about two photographers, Shubha Sundaram and Ravi Shankaran, who were desperately looking for Haribabu’s camera. Haribabu’s mother, Laxmi, told the SIT that Ravi Shankaran had visited their house on May 22 morning to inquire about the camera but never told them about his death. Another friend of Haribabu, Kannan, also told the SIT the same story. This led the SIT to tap the phones of the two photographers. Both were put under surveillance.
The SIT officials visited Sriperumbudur again with the pictures shot by Haribabu of the crowd which was circulated among the local population. Through a painstaking process of elimination, only four or five characters were left unidentified and two of them turned out to be Shubha and Nalini.
A study of the photo album seized from Ravi Shankaran also showed Nalini along with a few others. During questioning, Ravi Shankaran told the SIT that he knew one of the characters in the photograph from his album. It turned out to be Nalini’s brother, Bhagynathan. Bhagynathan was picked up from his printing press but Nalini and Murugan managed to flee. Bhagynathan told the SIT how he came under the influence of Baby Subramaniyam and about the operatives he had harboured. He identified the mysterious kurta-pygama clad man as Shivarasan.
Working around the clock, the SIT had managed to establish thee identities of the kurta-pyjama clad man, the actual assassin, her accomplices Shubha, Murugan and Nalini. Further interrogation of Bhagynathan, Shubha Sundaram and Ravi Shankaran revealed more details of the plot. While this was going on, Murugan and Nalini were in Tirupati where he planned to shave his head to celebrate the success of the operation. They also planned to get married. But by now, Nalini’s photograph had been splashed all over the state so they gave up the idea. Presuming the coastal areas would be heavily patrolled, both of them decided to return to Madras.
They were unaware that scores of police teams were waiting for them at all the railway and bus stations in Madras. The arrest of Murugan and Nalini was the biggest breakthrough in the investigation. Their interrogation not only revealed the entire plot but also pointed a conclusive finger at Pirabhakaran as the mastermind. Murugan admitted that he had direct orders from Pirabhakaran. With their confession, the arrests of Arivu and Robert Pias quickly followed.
But despite the successes notched up so far, SIT chief D.R. Kartikeyan still feel that “thee is a long way to go”. As he told India Today: “We are yet to catch the main culprit (now popularly known as one-eyed Jack because of his one glass eye) which might help us stretchthe arm of law deep inside the forest of Jaffna. I am not jumping to any conclusion about the motive or conspiracy behind the crime. But we have solved how the assassination was executed. I must say that my colleagues have been doing a remarkable job.” Judging by the chilling and detailed reconstruction of the plot to kill Rajiv Gandhi, that is clearly no idle boast.”
Who really killed Rajiv Gandhi?
by Dr. Norman Baker
[source: The Illustrated Weekly of India, August 22-28, 1992]
As a student of the history and politics of India, the events following the assassination of the former Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, have been a subject of intense interests to me. This piece provides my views about the conduct of the post-assasination investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT).
In my opinion, the investigation by the SIT was flawed from the very beginning. As one looks into statements made by SIT officials, leaks from SIT sources and the general direction which the investigation took, it is rather evident that the SIT had started with the assumption (maybe even the conclusion) that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was responsible for the assassination. Instead of looking for and analyzing evidence in order to find who the culprits behind the assassination were, the SIT seems to have been looking for and analyzing evidence to prove their assumption that the LTTE was guilty. Even when some pieces of evidence at hand suggested that the LTTE might not have anything to do with the assassination, the SIT tried to force-fit such evidence to support their pre-conceived notion that the LTTE was guilty. Having stated my general observations, let me elaborate on them.
Suspects: the LTTE and who else?
The LTTE was suspected from the very beginning because it had the motive and the means to carry out the assassination. The LTTE’s animosity towards Rajiv Gandhi because of his military intervention against it in the Sri Lankan civil war is well known. The LTTE feared that Rajiv might help the Sri Lankan government again in some form or another if he were to come to power in India again. Thus the LTTE had a motive.
It also had many operatives in Tamil Nadu for many years and its expertise with explosives is well known. The LTTE also had motivated volunteers who would sacrifice their lives gladly if they thought that it was in the interest of their cause – the achievement of a homeland for the Sri Lankan Tamils. Thus, the LTTE had the means to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu.
But, because it had the motive and the means, it does not necessarily follow that it was guilty of the crime. Is there anyone else who had the motive and the means to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi? There may be a few but I will concentrate on just one such suspect – the Sri Lankan government.
One suspect – Sri Lankan Government
The Sri Lankan government under President Premadasa was as anti-Rajiv Gandhi as the LTTE. Premadasa opposed the India-Sri Lankan Peace Accord of 1987 and the induction of Indian troops into Sri Lanka in 1987 from the very beginning. His presidential election campaign included a pledge to get the Indian troops out of Sri Lanka. His first foreign policy initiative as the newly elected president was to request India to withdraw its troops from Sri Lanka. When Rajiv Gandhi procrastinated, Premadasa did the unexpected and the unthinkable – he secretly supplied large quantities of arms to the Sri Lankan government’s long-term enemy, the LTTE. Finally, the Indian troops were withdrawn in 1990 and the new Indian prime minister V.P.Singh, pursued a hands-off policy on the Sri Lankan civil war.
Premadasa likened Singh’s hands-off policy to Gandhi’s activist policy. Premadasa feared the latter’s return to power. He feared that Rajiv Gandhi might interfere in the Sri Lankan civil war again, possibly in support of the LTTE, as he and his mother Indira Gandhi did until July 1987. Thus, the Sri Lankan government under President Premadasa had a motive to see that Rajiv Gandhi did not come to power again. Did the Sri Lankan government have the means (the ability) to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu?
The Sri Lankan government might not have had the means to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi directly but it had close relationships with some Sri Lankan Tamil guerrilla groups, namely the EPRLF, the PLOTE and the TELO. At least two of these groups (PLOTE and TELO) were helping the Sri Lankan army in its civil war with the LTTE. These groups had operatives in Tamil Nadu for many years and thus had the ability to plan and execute the assassination. These groups also had the necessary expertise with explosives. Moreover, these groups are armed militants without a cause. (They had long given up the cause of creating a homeland for the Sri Lankan Tamils.) The history of mercenary operations tells us that such groups are fertile grounds for mercenaries.
In fact, a few years ago PLOTE was involved in an unsuccessful mercenary operation to overthrow the government of the tiny island nation, Maldives. In addition to these Tamil guerrilla groups, it is believed that the Sri Lankan government also had some Tamils in its intelligence service and the Sri Lankan government did not hesitate to use them on Indian soil when necessary.
During the mid-‘80s, the LTTE’s political advisor, Balasingham lived in Madras. A Tamil Sri Lankan intelligence operative named Kandaswamy Naidu –a former Sri Lankan government employee – allegedly tried to blow up Balasingham’s Madras residence. A case was filed against them in Tamil Nadu but he escaped to Sri Lanka. Interestingly, Sivarasan, the mastermind of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, was allegedly a former Sri Lankan government employee.
An experienced covert operative – whether a Sri Lankan Tamil guerrilla or a Sri Lankan intelligence operative – could have ‘persuaded’ a suitable young Tamil lady raped by Indian soldiers and thus enraged against Rajiv Gandhi, to act as a sucide-assassin. (The assassin, Dhanu, allegedly told her friend, Nalini, that Indian soldiers had raped her. The fact that Indian soldiers raped some Tamil women has been established beyond any doubt; if Dhanu was a rape victim may never be known for sure.)
Thus the LTTE is not the only organization with the ability to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu. The Sri Lankan government also had that ability. It also had that ability through its surrogates. Is it not within the realm of possibility that the Sri Lankan government, which dared to provide arms to the LTTE to fight the Indian army in 1989, fearing Indian domination of Sri Lanka, might also dare to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi to prevent him from interfering in Sri Lankan affairs again?
This writer is not necessarily advocating that the LTTE is innocent and the Sri Lankan government is guilty. This writer is of the opinion that both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government should have been treated as suspects. There is a prima facie case against both in terms of motive, ability and mode of operation.
However, from the very beginning, the investigation was conducted as if the LTTE was the only suspect and the Sri Lankan government was beyond suspicion. Within weeks of the assassination, a team of SIT officers visited the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and sought the help of the Sri Lankan government, the EPRLF, PLOTE, and TELO in identifying the mastermind of the assassination Sivarasan. (Naturally they said that Sivarasan belonged to their arch enemy, the LTTE).
In the meantime, the LTTE volunteered to help the SIT and this help was rebuffed; a clear indication that the SIT was biased against the LTTE vis-à-vis the Sri Lankan government and the other guerrilla groups. This was at a time when there was absolutely no evidence to link the LTTE to the assassination. Throughout the investigation, while every piece of evidence that could possibly link the LTTE with the assassination was painstakingly pursued, other evidence was not given serious attention. One piece of information was that Sivarasan was a former Sri Lanka government employee. Especially in view of the Kandaswamy Naidu episode mentioned earlier, the SIT should have investigated any possible connections between Sivarasan and Sri Lankan intelligence agencies. But this was not done. Also, the question remains unanswered: Why did the Sri Lankan government tell the SIT in May-June 1991 that Sivarasan was an LTTE operative but failed to mention his former employment with them?
The Sri Lankan government distributed Sivarasan’s photograph to its offices in eastern Sri Lanka. Why wasn’t his past government employment revealed? Was it a case of incompetency or cover-up? While the SIT was quick to examine the LTTE’s bank transactions in European banks to uncover any incriminating financial transactions between the LTTE and foreign governments, it made no such attempt to investigate if the Sri Lankan government had any questionable financial dealings with the EPRLF, PLOTE, TELO or other mercenaries.
Was there a cover-up?
If any evidence linking the Sri Lankan government’s involvement in the assassination were to become public, there would surely have been an outcry from the Indian public and the opposition parties for military action against Sri Lanka. Failure to take military action would should the ruling party to be a coward and opposition parties could topple the government. Military action, on the other hand, would bring international condemnation. Thus, the revelation of any evidence suggesting the Sri Lankan government’s hand in the assassination would put the Indian government in an unenviable position. Did these considerations enter into the investigation? Did the SIT fear looking in the direction of the Sri Lankan government lest some evidence of the Sri Lankan government’s involvement be uncovered? How else can one explain the SIT holding the Sri Lankan government beyond suspicion from the very beginning and seeking its help with the investigation while rebuffing the LTTE’s help?
Political Pressures and Investigative Bias
How did the political climate prevailing in Tamil Nadu at the time of and after the assassination affect the investigation? Did it at least indirectly influence the SIT’s single-minded, one-track pursuit of the LTTE at the expense of investigating other suspects? The LTTE had become a pawn in Tamil Nadu politics years before the assassination. From the mid-‘80s onwards, both the DMK and the AIADMK used the LTTE and the Sri Lankan civil war for selfish political purposes. The more recent, and the most blatant use of the LTTE as a whipping boy in pre-assassination days started sometime after the 1989 Tamil Nadu assembly elections, the DMK won and the AIADMK and the Congress lost.
Just a few months after the elections, the AIADMK chief, Jayalalitha Jayaram, wanted the DMK state government dismissed by the Central government on one pretence or another so that her party could face the DMK again in an election, ‘this time with the Congress as her electoral ally’. The AIADMK and the Congress demanded that the DMK government be dismissed because the LTTE was creating a law and order problem in Tamil Nadu and the DMK government was not doing anything about it. In reality, no law-and-order problem existed in Tamil Nadu in 1989 or 1990. Most Indian newspapers did point this out. However, under pressure from the AIADMK and the Congress, the Central government dismissed the DMK government. The ‘LTTE bogeyman’ served its purpose for Jayalalitha. Soon elections were called for both the Tamil Nadu state assembly and the Indian parliament.
Since the ‘LTTE scare tactic served will in getting the DMK government dismissed, the AIADMK-Congress alliance tried to use it again to defeat the DMK in the elections. The LTTE became a ‘whipping boy’ in the election campaign. It was portrayed as a group of thugs and the DMK was painted as its ally. Of course, the latter was the real target of the attack, with the LTTE simply being the political pawn. It was in such a political climate that Rajiv was assassinated in Tamil Nadu. Even before the dust from the explosion that killed him settled, some AIADMK and Congress leaders blamed the LTTE without a single piece of evidence to support their statements. They also held their political rival, the DMK, indirectly responsible for the assassination because of its alleged closeness to the LTTE. The night and day following assassination, DMK party offices were ransacked and burned. Just before the elections, held less than a month afte the assassination, posters calling the DMK, the killers of Rajiv Gandhi appeared in Tamil Nadu. Also displayed in some parts of Tamil Nadu were posters of the DMK chief, M. Karunanidhi, pointing gun at Rajiv Gandhi. Just days after the assassination, even before the identity or the nationality of the suicide assassin was known, the Tamil Nadu state Congress party chief, V. Ramamurthy, claimed that he saw a woman carrying a basket at the meeting site and the bomb was in that basket. He added that the woman was from the LTTE’s suicide squad. Everyone now knows that the assassin did not carry a basket but had a garland in her hands. Also, how did Ramamurthy know that the woman he supposedly saw was from the LTTE suicide squad? Was she wearing the LTTE uniform? Surely not.
Ramamurthy was not alone in making such irresponsible statements. The then Indian law minister Subramanian Swamy, a personal friend of Jayalalitha Jayaram, said in less than 48 hours after the assassination that the LTTE was responsible for the assassination. What was his basis? The Sri Lankan defence minister told him so. The Sri Lankan army was at war with the LTTE for over a decade, and for the law minister of India to accuse the LTTE publicly on the basis of the Sri Lankan defence minister’s say-so was totally irresponsible. The then Indian prime minister Chandra Sekhar also publicly blamed the LTTE but without giving any supporting evidence. The new Indian home minister S.B. Chavan, under whose jurisdiction the law and order of the nation falls, also publicly blamed the LTTE without providing any evidence. The new Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalitha Jayaram, was another influential politician to blame the LTTE publicly. These accusations were made at a time when no solid evidence linking the LTTE to the assassination had been uncovered.
Such public statements by important government and political leaders do surely have an impact on the conduct of the assassination investigation. Senior officers of the SIT and the CBI are all career law-enforcement officers of the Indian government. Their assignments and promotions depend on the goodwill of the cabinet ministers and senior leaders of the ruling party. So, these officers have to be in the good graces of the ministers and ruling party politicians to get ahead in their careers. With cabinet ministers and ruling party leaders having stated publicly that the LTTE was guilty, how embarrassing it would be for them if the SIT were to come up with evidence showing the LTTE to be innocent. It would be a pie in their face. This surely would have an impact on the conduct of the investigation. It does not necessarily mean that the SIT officers would do something illegal to please their political bosses. But it is quite possible that SIT officers would concentrate on evidence that suggested an LTTE involvement at the expense of other lines of investigation. The conduct of the investigation, in fact, suggests that it has happened.
Not only the prestige of a few politicians but also the very image of the Indian government was put at risk by public statements by the likes of the then law minister Subramanian Swamy, the then prime minister Chandra Shekhar and the present home minister S.B. Chavan. The words of the Home minister, who is responsible for law and order, could be and should be treated as the official position of the Indian government. If the SIT were to find the LTTE innocent, how embarrassing it would be for the Indian government in front of the nations of the world. Also, if the LTTE were to be found innocent, opposition parties would surely demand the resignation of the government. All these considerations put indirect pressure on the investigators to purse evidence leading to the LTTE at the expense of other leads. It may explain why the SIT was trying to force-fit even seemingly unsupportive evidence to support the ‘LTTE is guilty’ hypothesis.
Was Sivarasan a mercenary?
The SIT had information that Sivarasan smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. This does not fit the profile of an LTTE operative. LTTE militants are prohibited from smoking and drinking. This code of conduct is strictly enforced from the very top to the newest recruit. The fact that Sivarasan smoked and drank would seriously undermine the theory that Sivarasan was an LTTE operative. However, the SIT simply brushed it aside. Was Sivarasan a former LTTE, EPRLF, PLOTE or TELO operative? Did he become a mercenary, using the skills he learned from these groups and the connections he made when he was with these groups?
In fact, there was evidence to suggest that Sivarasan might have been involved in a mercenary operation. According to the SIT, Sivarasan had visited Sweden, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates some months before the assassination. The LTTE had representatives in all these countries. If Sivarasan was planning the assassination on behalf of the LTTE, there was no reason for him to visit these countries to meet foreign government agencies or collect monies or secure explosives; LTTE networks in these countries are better suited to do these back-up tasks. It is highly unlikely that the LTTE would send Sivarasan to foreign countries for this purpose.
Sivarasan’s foreign trips would make sense if he were a mercenary. But the SIT chose to go around this piece of evidence and tried to force-fit it to its ‘LTTE is guilty’ hypothesis. What was the SIT’s analysis? It concluded that Sivarasan, while planning the assassination for the LTTE, was at the same time on the payroll of (under contract to) an unidentified foreign government without the knowledge of the LTTE.
Is such a scenario plausible? Highly unlikely. The LTTE is a well-disciplined, tightly-knit organization and it is highly unlikely that an operative assigned for the most sensitive and critical operation in the history of the LTTE (namely the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi) would be able to establish contact with a foreign government and travel to many foreign countries for weeks without the knowledge of the LTTE. It is more likely that Sivarasan was a mercenary than a mercenary and an LTTE operative at the same time. However, the SIT chose to propound the latter theory. There are a few more pieces of evidence that would suggest that Sivarasan was not working for the LTTE. Instead of exploring these to see where they lead, the SIT chose to go on the beaten path towards the LTTE, brushing aside unsupportive evidence.
EPRLF man initially identified as LTTE!
Another seemingly unimportant incident is worth noting. On September 2, 1991, the police arrested a one-legged Sri Lankan Tamil male named Rajaram at the Avaniyapuram refugee camp in Tamil Nadu. He had come from Bangalore just a few days earlier. Immediately, the SIT declared that he belonged to an LTTE suicide squad and he had links with Sivarasan who had committed suicide in Bangalore on August 20, 1991. Later, it became evident that the one-legged man did not belong to the LTTE but to the rival guerrilla group, the EPRLF.
This incident is indicative of the SIT’s rush to link everyone and everything even remotely associated with the assassination to the LTTE. Had the man been unable to prove that he belonged to the EPRLF, a guerrilla group which collaborated with the Indian army during its peace-keeping years (1987-1990) in Sri Lanka, his proclamations of innocence would not have been believed. Such was the ‘LTTE phobia’ under which the SIT conducted the investigation. Where did the SIT get the idea that this one-legged man belonged to the LTTE’s suicide squad?
Confessions obtained in the absence of lawyers and after torture?
Though the LTTE was blamed by politicians and the police from the very beginning, the first concrete evidence that the SIT presented linking the LTTE to the assassination was Murugan’s confession; Murugan was allegedly a key player in the assassination. Murugan confessed that the LTTE chief, Velupillai Pirabhakaran, ordered the assassination.
This confession was made when Murugan was under SIT custody. No lawyer was present during the interrogation. In fact, Murugan was not allowed to see a lawyer after his arrest for months. He did not have the counsel of a lawyer before his interrogation or for months after it (in countries like the US, confessions of prisoners without the counsel of a lawyer are not admissible evidence: the court cannot consider such evidence in determining guilt or innocence.)
After the very first time he was allowed to see a lawyer, Murugan claimed that he made the ‘confession’ under torture. Nalini, Padma, Bhagyanathan and Perarivalan (all suspects under SIT custody) also claimed that they were forced to make statements against their will and that those statements were false. The SIT brushes aside these allegations of ‘forced confessions’ on the grounds that all these people were presented before a judge periodically and they did not make the charges to the judge.
One should remember that to these prisoners in custody, the judge would seem like part of the government apparatus. They would feel more free and comfortable to discuss their charges of ‘forced confessions’ with an independent lawyer than with a judge. In fact, Nalini did ask the judge for a lawyer more than once and the judge refused to let her see a lawyer for months. The world may never know for sure if Murugan, Nalini, Padma, Bhagyanathan and Perarivalan were tortured in SIT custody. However, it is an established fact that the Indian police and other security forces do torture prisoners occasionally to extract confessions.
Documentary evidence forged?
Two documents in the possession of the SIT are said to provide clinching evidence of the LTTE involvement in the assassination. One is a letter allegedly written by Peria Santhan, an alleged high-level LTTE operative in Tamil Nadu. This letter was addressed to the LTTE chief and was dated September 7, 1991 (about two weeks after Sivarasan’s suicide). It informs the LTTE chief that Santhan had met Sivarasan in his Bangalore hide-out and ordered him and his associates there to commit suicide. Was this letter really written by Peria Santhan? Or, was it a forgery by someone who wanted to implicate the LTTE? This question deserves serious scrutiny.
Santhan’s letter was allegedly taken from an LTTE courier named Irumporai who was on his way to the Tamil Nadu coast to take a boat to Jaffna. At that time, the Tamil Nadu coast was heavily patrolled by Indian security forces and the Palk Straits between Tamil Nadu and Jaffna was patrolled by the Indian navy. Would the LTTE send an uncoded letter through a courier under these circumstances? This was not some urgent message that had to reach Jaffna. In fact, the message in the letter was ‘old news’: everything in the letter was already known to LYYE headquarters in Jaffna. Sivarasan’s sucide was broadcast on both the Indian and the Sri Lankan radio, both of which were monitored by the LTTE. If Santhan indeed ordered Sivarasan to commit suicide, he would have done so only according to instructions from LTTE headquarters in Jaffna (assuming that Sivarasan was an LTTE operative who assassinated Rajiv Gandhi under LTTE orders, it would be surprising if he did not have a standing order to commit suicide if he was cornered by the Indian police).
So, with real message to be sent to Jaffna, would Santhan send an uncoded, written message which clearly and unequivocally links the LTTE to the assassination when everyone knew very well of the tight security on the Tamil Nadu coast? (The routine message could have been transmitted orally through the courier without leaving the ‘hard evidence’ of the letter.) All these considerations make one pause and think if Santhan’s letter was a forgery.
The second letter, dated May 10, 1991, was allegedly written by the assassin Dhanu. The SIT discovered it about three months after the date of the letter. In this letter, addressed to the LTTE chief, Dhanu thanks him for giving her the opportunity to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. Why did the LTTE keep such an incriminating letter in Tamil Nadu for three months, at a time when the police were searching and flushing out all LTTE safe-houses in Tamil Nadu and the nearby states? If they were unable to take it to Jaffna, they would simply have burnt the letter long ago and not have risked its falling into police hands. This again makes one wonder if this letter was also a forgery.
Forgeries do discredit political enemies are not new. When Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister, certain foreign banking documents were forged to implicate the opposition leader V.P. Singh in illegal business dealings. So the possibility of forged letters being used to implicate the LTTE in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination should not be brushed aside so lightly.
Police and the Politicians – an unholy alliance
The newly elected (June 1991) AIADMK government of Tamil Nadu alleged that the previous DMK government, including the former chief minister Karunanidhi, interfered in police investigations and the police officers obliged. R.Nagarajan was the Tamil Nadu state home secretary at that time. Law and order in the state came under his purview. He was arrested on November 21, 1991. It was charged, among other things, that Nagarajan knew of the alleged LTTE plot to murder the EPRLF chief, Padmanabha in 1990 and assured the murderers that they would not be apprehended. Nagarajan allegedly asked the then DCP (law and order) for Madras and the then DIG of Ramnad (Tamil Nadu) to take it easy in pursuing the murderers, and these senior police officers allegedly obliged.
While Nagarajan denied everything initially, after a few days in police custody, he told the police that the then chief minister, Karunanidhi, asked high-ranking police officers not to evince keen interest in tracing the murderers of Padmanabha. The former DIG for intelligence under the DMK government was suspended in January 1992 for dereliction of duty with respect to that murder.
If even some of the allegations were true, it means that high-ranking police officers protected the murderers from prosecution because their political bosses asked them to do so. Of course, the high-ranking police officers would have needed the cooperation of middle- and lower-level officers in protecting the murderers; it could not be done without their cooperation.
These alleged immoral and illegal activities in the police department during the former DMK government’s reign raise an interesting corollary question. If the Tamil Nadu police under the DMK government during 1989 and 1990 had such total disregard for the laws of the land and would protect LTTE murderers to please their then political bosses, can we consider the possibility that the Tamil Nadu police under the AIADMK government during 1991 and 1992 would disregard the laws of the land to implicate the LTTE in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination?
If the DMK chief minister, Karunanidhi, “loved” the LTTE (he denies it), the AIADMK chief minister Jayalalitha “hates” the LTTE and leaves no stones unturned to eradicate it. In such a situation, one has to but wonder if some police officers today might have gone beyond legal bounds to please the present chief minister, Jayalalitha.
While the few top officers under the DMK government no longer hold those positions, many of the middle- and lower-level officers who have obliged their superiors and allegedly let the Padmanabha murderers escape are still in their jobs (this writer is not charging anyone with breaking the law but wonders if anyone did, given the past record of the Tamil Nadu police).
It is with these considerations in mind that one should look with some suspicion on prisoner’s confessions and the incriminating letters that link the LTTE to the assassination. The Verma Commission proceedings give some glimpses into the working of the Tamil Nadu police well after the AIADMK came to power in Tamil Nadu. There is a feud between the police and the Congress Party organizers of the fateful Sriperumbudur meeting as to who was responsible for the security lapses at the meeting. A Congress Party worker, Ranganathan, testified on behalf of the police and blamed the meeting organizers. During the cross-examination, he contradicted his sworn affidavit. Ranganathan further damaged his credibility by admitting that he signed his sworn affidavit without reading it. So the lawyer for the meeting organizers charged that the police had ‘tutored’ the witness.
This raises a question: if the police indeed tutored a witness before the Verma Commission, would they also be inclined to tutor witnesses or forge documents in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination investigation? Such questions should not be swept under the carpet. There are also a few disquieting incidents in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination investigation. The death of a key witness, Shanmugham, when he was under SIT custody was officially cleared as suicide. Quite a few observers have serious doubts about the suicide theory. Available physical evidence seems to suggest murder rather than suicide.
Another incident: there was a dispute between the Bangalore city police department and the Mandya district police department as to who should get the reward for finally locating the ever-evasive Sivarasan. Each gave a different version of how Sivarasan was located. Both versions cannot be true. One of the police departments is fudging the truth.
Central government agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), under whose jurisdiction the SIT operates, have also served the interests of the ruling parties in the past. The infamous St.Kitts bank documents linking the Opposition leader V.P.Singh to illegal business dealings were allegedly forged by one of the central government agencies (they deny it). A number of other misdeeds of these agencies to help the ruling party are discussed in the October 14, 1990 issue of the Illustrated Weekly of India.
Ever since the assassination, spotty reports appeared in the press suggesting possible links between the alleged assassins and some Congress Party leaders. Whenever evidence suggesting such links turned up, the SIT brushed it aside as false or unimportant.
SIT brushed aside Congress Party links
Within weeks after the assassination, a DMK party newspaper, Murasoli published a report that Sivarasan was related to a Congress leader. No one paid much attention to the report because it came from the DMK which was being indirectly blamed for the assassination. But in February 1992, Murugan, who was still under SIT custody, filed an affidavit stating that Sivarasan and one of his alleged accomplices, Hari Babu, had contact with Tamil Nadu Congress Party leaders including the state party president, V. Ramamurthy. The SIT simply brushed that affidavit aside as a lie.
Murugan was not the only one to suggest links between Congress leaders and the assassins. Soon after the assassination some newspapers reported that the Congress MP, Maragathan Chandrasekhar, and her daughter Latha Priyakumar (a Congress MLA) might have known Latha Kannan who allowed the assassin Dhanu to stand in the line of people waiting to garland Rajiv Gandhi at the Sriperumbudur meeting. The SIT did not give much credence to it, neither did it investigate this matter seriously.
Many months later, in 1991, a Congress Party worker, Kumudavalli, told the Verma Commission that Latha Priyakumar brought Latha Kannan to the Sriperumbudur meeting. Did the SIT know that? Kumudavalli also told the Verma Commission that Latha Kannan addressed Subha (an accomplice to the assassination) as ‘sister’, thus indicating that Latha Kannan knew Subha previously. The questions are: did the SIT know of Kumudavalli’s allegations before? If not, why not? Did the SIT turn a blind eye because a ruling party MP and MLA were involved? (This writer is not necessarily implicating either the MP or MLA in the assassination. Their interaction with Latha Kannan, if true, could be totally innocent.)
Within days of the assassination, the Hindu reported that an LTTE emissary met Rajiv Gandhi earlier in 1991 to re-establish a cordial relationship. The Congress Party spokesman, Pranab Mukherjee, denied that such a meeting took place. Later, it became evident that the meeting in fact took place on March 5, 1991, at Rajiv Gandhi’s New Delhi residence. This is a critical piece of evidence. If the meeting ended amicably and if the LTTE believed that Rajiv Gandhi would not be hostile to the LTTE, then it would no longer have a motive to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. (If the LTTE’s foes were to know of the meeting, they might have a motive to assassinate Rajiv.)
By giving false information that no such meeting took place, the Congress spokesman essentially misled the investigation until the truth emerged from other sources. Why did the Congress Party spokesman mislead the investigation? The only one to be adversely affected by the denial is the LTTE. Were the anti-LTTE leaders within the Congress Party and its ally, the AIADMK, responsible for the denial?
The Rajiv-LTTE meeting is an important piece of evidence and the gist of the conversation could be useful in assessing the LTTE’s motives. The SIT simply brushed it aside as a diversive tactic used by the LTTE. But there is some prima facie evidence to suggest that the Rajiv-LTTE meeting did go well. The very fact that Rajiv Gandhi agreed to meet an LTTE emissary indicates that he had an open mind about the LTTE.
Furthermore, the June 1, 1991 issue of the Illustrated Weekly of India reported that ‘intelligence sources, on condition of anonymity, confirm this (the meeting) and are inclined to view that the compromise worked out between Rajiv and the LTTE could have been the cause for the assassination and that international forces who stood to lose by Rajiv becoming prime minister, standing by the LTTE’s demand for an independent Tamil Eelam could have been behind the blast (assassination)’ Who has more to lose by a rapproachment between Rajiv and the LTTE than the Sri Lankan government?
A SIT official was reported as saying in late August that “in the court of world opinion, the LTTE stands connected”. Not necessarily so. The LTTE might very well be guilty of the crime. But the euphoria among the ruling political parties (the Congress at the Centre and the AIADMK in the state) to “get the LTTE”, the past record of the police, security and intelligence agencies of doing the bidding of the ruling parties even if it amounted to illegalities, the real or perceived bias in the investigation and the court’s refusal to grant permission to the suspects in custody to consult a lawyer for many months, all shed a shadow of doubt on the integrity of the investigation.
Even if the LTTE chief is found guilty by an Indian court, there will always be a lingering doubt about whether the LTTE was really guilty of assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. The recent order by Judge Siddick prohibiting the publication of the proceedings of the court is more cause for concern.
The Gandhi Assassination: Who was ‘Sivarajan’? An exclusive investigation
[source: Lanka Guardian, Sept.15, 1991, pp.10-12]
[Note by Sachi: Originally, this material was published in Frontline (Madras) magazine, but the date of its appearance was omitted in the Lanka Guardian’s re-publication. I guess, it should have appeared in early September 1991, as the first sentence notes the death of Sivarasan (in August 1991). The by-line provided states, “D.B.S. Jeyaraj, was The Hindu’s Colombo correspondent. He now edits Senthamarai, a Tamil weekly in Toronto. He worked for the Island.
I add the following detail. Jeyaraj had been a ‘master’ in wielding his ‘words’ to suit the need of his sponsors. How he describes Sivarasan’s social origins and caste affiliations, for his Brahmin sponsors is of interest here. In fact, as one may guess so, Jeyaraj’s information from ‘hearsay’ about the origins of Thanakkarar caste is erroneous! Jeyaraj had noted that Sivarasan “belonged to a sub-division of Chettis called Thanakkarar, a small trading caste which traces its origins to the Thana Vaisya Chettiars in India”. The fact is, Thanakkarar were elephant keepers, according to the classification on Tamil castes, provided by the 19th century authority Simon Casie Chitty Modliar, in the Ceylon Gazetteer (1834). Prof. A.Jeyaratnam Wilson, in his Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its origins and development in the Nineteenth Century (2000), also records the following: “Thanakkarar, managers of temple property; they took to elephant trapping in the areas south of the peninsula, trade in elephants being a paying concern in those times.” (p.18) The sentences in italics, are as in the original.]
The 90-day manhunt is over. Sivarajan or ‘One-eyed Jack’, the mastermind behind the Rajiv Gandhi assassination is dead. Who was this Sivarajan? What was his real name and background?
Here is a brief life-sketch compiled from telephone interviews with close relatives, schoolmates, former Udupiddy residents and ex-comrades from various militant groups.
‘One-eyed Jack’ used many aliases, including Sivarajan, Rajan, Rajah, Arumai, Aravinth, Raghuvaran, Raghu and Raghu-appah. His real name however was Packiachandran, and he hailed from Udupiddy, a town about 32 km from Jaffna city and about 3 km inland from coastal Valvettithurai.
Packiachandran’s father was Chandrasekharam Pillai, a teacher of English at the Udupiddy American Mission School, leading educational institution in the area. Chandrasekharam Pillai was a native of Udupiddy and lived in the northern part of the twon near the Veerapathira Temple. The postal address was Verapathira Koyiladdy Vadakku or Veerapathiran Temple, North Area). Packiachandran was named afte his parents, taking Packia from his mother’s name, Sivapakiam, and the Chandran from his father’s. He was the eldest child and born in 1958, the year of the first major anti-Tamil pogrom in Sri Lanka.
Packiachandran’s social origins are interesting. He was neither a Vellala, the numerically dominant caste in Jaffna, nor a Karayar, a numerically smaller caste heavily concentrated in the coastal region. He belonged to a sub-division of Chettis called Thanakkarar, a small trading caste which traces its origins to the Thana Vaisya Chettiars in India. The Thanakkarar community in Udupiddy is concentrated in the Veerapathira Koyiladdy, Mottaipulliyady and Vasigasalaiady areas. Interestingly, the Thanakkarar of Udupiddy claim that they are superior to both Vellalas and Karayars and they have certainly enjoyed some power and influence in the vicinity.
Young Packiachandran was inculcated with Tamil nationalist feelings at a very tender age by his father. Chandrasekharam Pillai, although an English scholar, was a staunch supporter of the Federal Party and later of the Tamil United Liberation Front. In this, he strayed from the beaten track of politics in Udupiddy. The political star of Udupiddy in those days was a leftist called R.R.Dharmaratnam who belonged to the ‘Trotskyite’ Lanka Sama Samaja Party. The people of Udupiddy were not enamoured of Leon Trotsky, but they strongly supported the ‘son-of-the-soil’ Dharmaratnam when he contested the Udupiddy parliamentary constituency. The votes from Udupiddy town, however, accounted for only 11 percent of the Udupiddy electorate. Dharmaratnam never won, but he always gained the electoral support of the people of the town.
Chandrasekharam Pillai and his young son, however, defied the local current and supported the Tamil nationalist candidates K. Jeyakkody of the Federal Party and T. Rasalingam of the TULF, against Dharmaratnam. This tendency to defy local opinion incurred the displeasure of the people of Udupiddy. This tendency or trait became more pronounced later when Packiachandran joined the LTTE and incurred the wrath of many a Udupiddy resident.
Packiyachandran was a clever student at the local American Mission School. He had an aptitude for languages and passed his General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) examination with flying colours. He was studying for the GCE Advanced Level which would have enabled him to enter the university, when his father died in late 1977. Being the eldest child, he had to bear the family burden and dropped out of school.
The family paid a large amount of money to an agent from Udupiddy who promised Packiachandran a lucrative job in west Asia. The agent defaulted and the young man became extremely frustrated. He then entered government service as a worker attached to the Electricity Board. He served as an Electricity Board employee in Trincomalee and Batticaloa in the Eastern Province for some time.
While working in the East, Packiachandran was once arrested for distributing leaflets containing pro-Eelam views. While in custody, he scribbled ‘Long Live Tamil Eelam’ slogans on the walls of his cell and his plate. He was severely assaulted for this and had to be hospitalized. Later, in Jaffna, he was arrested once again for posting Tamil Eelam posters and was detained at the Jaffna Fort Camp prison. When the large-scale anti-Tamil violence occurred in July 1983, Packiachandran was apparently locked up inside the Dutch Fort. He was released shortly afterwards and promptly joined the ranks of the militants.
Strange as it may seem, Packichandran’s first choice of group was the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and not the LTTE. There had been for several decades an undercurrent of hostility between the predominantly ‘Karayar’ Valvettithurai and the predominantly ‘non-Karayar’ Udupiddy. The original leaders of TELO, Thangathurai, Kuttimani and Jegan of Valvettithurai (VVT), had all been killed in the Welikade prison massacre. The new leader was Sri Sabaratnam from Kalviyankadu, whereas the top leadership of the LTTE was essentially from Valvettithurai.
A second reason for a large influx of Udupiddy youth into TELO was the phenomenon of Das, the TELO military commander. Das was himself from Udupiddy and because of this, many local lads joined his movement. Packiyachandran and Das were of the same stock but not directly related. (Das was murdered in 1986 by the Bobby faction of TELO at the Jaffna hospital premises.)
Packiyachandran joined TELO and left for India in October 1983. He is said to have received military training at a camp near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. He was then posted to the propaganda wing of TELO and interacted with a lot of students in Tamil Nadu as well as Kerala, Karnataka and Andra Pradesh. Fluent in English, Packiachandran also had a smattering of Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi and spoke Tamil with an Indian accent.
While in the TELO, Packiachandran was closely associated with the group’s Valvettithurai component. Unlike most Udupiddy youth, Packiachandran had great rapport with the VVT group. His political mentor within TELO was Mano Master from Valvettithurai. Soon problems arose within the TELO and a large number of Valvettithurai youth led by Mano Master broke away, left South India and returned to Sri Lanka. In late 1984, ‘Sivarajan’ or Packiyachandran was one of them.
Back in Sri Lanka, Mano Master continued to function within TELO, claiming he was the rightful heir to the Thangathurai-Kuttimani tradition, Packiachandran, while still sympathetic, no longer functioned within the Mano Master –led faction of TELO. When TELO robbed the Kilinochchi bank, the LTTE reacted sharply. Mano Master was killed by Ravindran alias Pandithar, the then LTTE leader. With Mano Master’s death, Valvettithurai became the monopoly of the LTTE. TELO militants from VVT either dropped out of militancy, or joined the LTTE.
Packiyachandran, along with other ex-TELO militants like Sathi, Ramesh, Rangan and Babu, joined the LTTE. His new LTTE nom-de guerre was Raghu. He functioned for a long time within the political wing and was responsible for the collection of funds from Udupiddy and adjacent areas.
Packiyachandran was, according to Udupiddy residents, extremely ruthless in extracting money. Udupiddy was not traditionally supportive of the Tigers and Packiachandran was the only person from his clan who was a senior member of the LTTE. This did not endear him to many. He is reported to have virtually terrorized the local population, at times even pointing a gun at the victim. He was apparently impartial in this fund collecting, on one occasion sizeing (SL) Rs. 25,000 from the dowry money of an aunt on her wedding day and diverting portions of the wedding feast to nearby LTTE camps. An uncle who had just sold some property found his Tiger nephew appropriating one lakh of rupees.
Raghu also earned the hatred of Udupiddy residents for his part in the killing of Pooranashanthi, the widowed mother of five children who was allegedly an informant working for the IPKF. Although Raghu did not kill her personally, he is said to have warned her one day before her death. The children are now in an orphanage and the town people remain very angry over the whole affair. Another killing, that of an Udupiddy youth Kamaradas, who belong to a rival militant group, is also ascribed to Raghu. Packiyachandran alias Raghu is also reported to have warned his first cousin who was an ex-TELO militant to flee the country. The man took the cousinly ‘advice’ and is now in the West.
According to informed sources, Packiachandran alias Raghu seems to have been the ‘visible target’ for the subterranean hostility in Udupiddy towards the LTTE. His own high-handed behavior, on top of the maverick attitude of both father and son, has contributed to this sentiment. Raghu’s unpopularity in his native place can be gauged by an Udupiddy woman’s reaction upon hearing that ‘Sivarajan’ was dead. She quoted from the ancient Tamil pet Auvaiyar’s Kondraiventhan: ‘Oorudan pahaikkin verudan kedum’ (‘Incurring the enemity of the village will result in destruction down to the roots’).
In 1987, Raghu was injured during a skirmish near the Jaffna Fort. He lost his left eye, thereby earning the sobriquet, ‘One-eyed Jack’. When the confrontation with the Indian army began, Raghu is said to have shifted from the peninsula into the Eastern province. He came back in early 1988 and functioned under the Vadamarachchi commander Ruthrapathy Sridhar alias Major James of Valvettithurai.
On one occasion, Major James launched a successful attack on an IPKF sentry post. The first rocket-propelled grenade was fired by Packiyachandran alias Raghu. Later, when Major James was summoned by LTTE supremo Prabhakaran to the jungles of the Wanni for consultations, Raghu functioned for about a month as acting Vadamarachchi commander. Despite this, Raghu was not promoted and continued as a lieutenant.
Mystery surrounds Raghu’s movements after the departure of the Indian troops. He was not sighted in the North afterwards and one view is that he was in Batticaloa. According to an account put out in Sri Lanka, he had bungled some assignment relating to the Muslim population and had been ‘thrown out of the movement’. He then left for India. Another version is that he had ‘dropped out of the movement’ in late 1989 or early 1990 and left for India. The question raised by both versions is: Was this hard core LTTE cadre, trained in the use of various types of weapons, working for some other powerful external ‘agency’ in addition to the Tigers? But the versions put out in Tiger country could be a cunning camouflage or cover-up story.
The more prevalent view among Sri Lankan Tamils from the Udupiddy area is that Packiachandran never stopped working for the LTTE. His assignment subject to a particular time frame, would have been perhaps to eliminate certain persons and indeed this seemed his area of expertise. It is vital for the SIT investigation to establish, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the status of Packiachandran alias Raghu alias Sivarajan in the LTTE organization and hierarchy.
Contrary to the reports put out in the Indian media citing investigative or intelligence agencies Sivarajan was not the LTTE’s ‘intelligence chief’. At least until recently, the head of the LTTE’s intelligence wing has been ‘Pottu Amman’, who is well known among Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups and is a very senior functionary. Further, contrary to reports which have appeared in some sections of the Indian press, even Packiachandran’s many detractors from Sri Lanka say that he did not smoke or drink – at least publicly. Also, he was not known to have had any relationship with any woman or women in Sri Lanka.
Packiachandran’s mother is still alive. So are his three brothers and two sisters, all younger to him. One brother is living abroad, another is a technician in Sri Lanka, and a third is a member of the LTTE. All three are married. One sister was born mentally handicapped while the other, a schoolteacher, is unmarried.
There have been reports in the Indian press that both the ‘human bomb’ Dhanu and ‘Subha’ were relatives of Packiachandran on his mother’s side. The mother, Sivapackiyam, is from Chavakachcheri. The relatives whom this writer interviewed (from Canada) were all on Packiachandran’s paternal side; while confirming that Sivarajan’s mother was from Chavakachcheri, they could not shed much light on his maternal relatives at this point.
Journal Faces Legal Action
An Anonymous report
[source: Tamil Times, London, April 15, 1999, pp. 10-11]
The Canadian-based well known journalist D.B.S.Jeyaraj is in the process of launching legal action, both in the Canadian and Sri Lankan courts against the Tamil weekly Thinamurasu, published from Colombo, its publishers and editor. According to Jeyaraj, the paper had published material defamatory of his character and reputation by alleging that he was “an informant” of the Indian Criminal Bureau of Investigation.
Thinamurasu is not only read in Sri Lanka, but also is relatively popular among expatriate Sri Lankan Tamils. The historical anecdotes published every week as a serial titled ‘Alfred Duraiappah to Gamini Dissanayake’ though a high popular column is termed by knowledgeable critics as a rewriting of contemporary history. Besides the normal news items, the paper revels in publishing tidbits of ‘secrets’ of past and present events and personalities that are interesting to read but according to informed circles are replete with distortions, exaggerations and in some instances plain inventions. Some of the ‘secrets’ tantamount to slanderous allegations against individuals.
The latest target of such malicious allegation is D.B.S.Jeyaraj. The Thinamurasu (March 14-20) has alleged that Jeyaraj had informed N.Ram, the editor of the Indian weekly Frontline, about ‘One eyed Sivarasan’, the alleged mastermind behind the Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The paper says that Ram had published an article in Frontline on the basis of the information supplied by Jeyaraj. It also says that the article was of use to the Special Investigating Team probing Rajiv’s killing. It also alleges that Jeyaraj had obtained the information about Sivarasan from Kanagartnam alias Raheem – LTTE’s one time military leader in Jaffna, resident in Canada from the early 1990s. It further claims that Indian national daily, The Hindu, and the Frontline changed their attitude towards the LTTE following the information given about Sivarasan by Jeyaraj.
The defamatory insinuation against Jeyaraj appears to be that he passed information obtained from Raheem to Ram of Frontline which in turn was utilized by the CBI special investigators to bring about Sivarasan’s detection and identification. According to sources close to Jeyaraj, allegation by Thinamurasu might have dangerous consequences for him and Raheem. Not only it would undermine the professional integrity of Jeyaraj as serious and independent journalist, but also would make him and Raheem vulnerable to accusations of ‘treachery’ and possible reprisals in regard to their personal and physical safety.
According to a non-governmental organization in Canada protecting the rights of individual journalists Jeyaraj had never passed information of any type about Sivarasan to Ram in a personal capacity as alleged by the Thinamurasu. Jeyaraj however had written an article for Frontline on the topic ‘Who is Sivarasan?’ under his own name after Sivarasan committed suicide in Bangalore when he and his associates were cornered by the Indian police. This again was an English version of an article ‘Yaar Intha Sivarasan’ in Tamil weekly Sentamarai edited by him then. The article was basically about Sivarasan’s childhood and early past. It had been written on the request of Sivarasan’s relatives in Canada who wanted something written about him in the papers so that he would not be ‘forgotten’. Much of the information was supplied by them. The articles had nothing whatsoever about Sivarasan’s involvement in Rajiv’s killing and in any case was published only after his death.
Jeyaraj is reported to be angry that by twisting and suppressing the real chronology of events, Thinamurasu has now subjected him to what he considers as scurrilous and dangerous charges. The paper has sought to characterize him by insinuation as an ‘informant’ of the Indian law enforcement agencies. Engaging in open journalistic expression has been converted into a sinister and secret act by an ‘informant’. Its allegation that the Hindu and Frontline changed course after learning about the details about Sivarasan from Jeyaraj is again downright distortion as those reading these journals would have known that this development occurred right after the LTTE-IPKF military confrontation began in October 1987, some four years before Rajiv Gandhi’s murder.
Sources close to Raheem assert that involving Raheem in this by the editor of the paper who is also the author of the defamatory article, Ramesh, was motivated by the latter’s long-standing enmity towards the former. It would seem that during a LTTE-EPRLF (of which Ramesh was a member) skirmish in Jaffna, Raheem had shot Ramesh in the leg and back.
Incidentally, Ramesh is a parliamentarian belonging to the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), the leader of which is Douglas Devananda who escaped murder, but suffering very serious injuries, by LTTE prisoners held in in Kalutara jail after being invited to visit them on a ‘mercy mission’ last year. Questions have been raised as to whether Devananda has lost control both of the paper which was founded and continues to be financed by the EPDP and of its editor Ramesh.
A journal in Canada noted for its pro-LTTE views has reproduced the Thinamurasu allegation against Jeyaraj and added its own view by calling him a traitor and urging the people to beware of enemies who are delaying and obstructing the liberation struggle. This has also been followed by the customary cavalcade of abusive threats to which Jeyaraj has become accustomed over a period of years.”
A footnote excerpt to this 1999 report is appended below. It was authored by none other than D.B.S. Jeyaraj, and entitled, “Assassinating Tamil parliamentarians; Unceasing Waves” [The Nation, March 16, 2008].
“One of those elected on the EPDP ticket was Nadarajah Atputharajah, alias Ramesh, who edited the Thinamurasu weekly. Serious differences arose between Douglas and Ramesh with the latter gradually following a pro-Tiger line in the Thinamurasu tabloid. Douglas found it increasingly difficult to control Ramesh. Then Ramesh and his brother-in-law were shot dead at Wellawatte. With that killing, Douglas re-established control over the paper. Though the LTTE was blamed by Douglas, it was widely suspected that it was an internal EPDP killing. Ramesh’s death triggered off an exodus of EPDP Parliamentarians to foreign countries. Today Devananda is the lone EPDP MP in Parliament. None of those elected as MPs from the EPDP are in the party today except for Devananda’s uncle Sivathasan and Batticaloa’s Rasamanickam. Most of the EPDP ex-parliamentarians are abroad and many of them, in their refugee claims, have blamed the Ramesh killing on Douglas. This speaks volumes about the inner democracy within the EPDP.”
Less said about D.B.J. Jeyaraj’s dalliance with the House of Hindu publishers and the Indian officials, the better I feel. Despite his denials to the media, his actions speak louder. Here is an issue of interest, raised by politician Subramanian Swamy (noted for his anti-LTTE sentiments) in 2000. To quote,
As one would have expected, Karthikeyan who led the SIT team’s inquiry should have answered Swamy’s pointed question in his 2004 book. Admittedly, Karthikeyan never even mentioned about what happened to Sivarasan’s corpse!
Subramanian Swamy: The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi – Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries, Konark Publishers, Delhi, 2000.
D.R.Kaarthikeyan and Radhavinod Raju: The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: The Investigation, New Dawn Press Group, New Delhi, 2004.****