The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 26

Sachi Sri Kantha
[8 December 2001]

Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: The Forensic Science Angle

A ‘Hexagonal Rashomon’

The Rajiv Gandhi assassination is a story within a story in the Pirabhakaran Phenomenon. All the complex details have not come to the surface even after a lapse of 10 years. However, if I short-circuit it, the Pirabhakaran story would be incomplete, since Pirabhakaran was framed as the first accused in the charge sheet produced by the SIT in May 1992 and later his status was designated as an ‘absconding accused’.

I view the Rajiv Gandhi assassination as a ‘hexagonal Rashomon’. In the original Rashomon story of Akutagawa, popularized by movie director Kurosawa, there was a murder of a man and a rape of a woman [see, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – part 9]. In the Rajiv Gandhi event of May 21st 1991, there was a murder of a leading man (coupled with 16 other tragic deaths) and a suicide by a woman. The assassination of John F.Kennedy (hereafter abbreviated as JFK), which I take as a control case to analyze the Rajiv assassination, cannot match the complexity of Rajiv assassination, since the November 22nd 1963 event was only a murder of a leading man. The complexity in JFK case appeared on November 24, 1963, when the second murder (that of assassin) was committed.

The parallels between JFK and Rajiv assassinations are striking, if one equates USA and Cuba to India and Sri Lanka respectively. USA has had a troubling relationship with Cuba prior to JFK’s death, and the executive arm of USA had tried to assassinate the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, through its Intelligence agency CIA. India also experienced a troubling relationship with Sri Lanka prior to Rajiv’s death, and the executive arm of India had tried to ‘neutralize’ the Eelam Tamil leader Pirabhakaran, through its Intelligence agency RAW. Two additional features related to the puzzle of May 21, 1991 event deserve emphasis, which do not have parallels with the JFK assassination. First one being, apart from Pirabhakaran, mutual antagonism of Rajiv and the then Sri Lankan Sinhalese leader Premadasa was a complicating factor in solving the Rajiv assassination case. Secondly, unlike JFK, Rajiv did survive a humiliating assassination attempt by a Sinhalese naval rating in Colombo four years before his tragic death.

Benzene analogy

I like to portray the Rajiv assassination as a ‘hexagonal Rashomon’, with six angles. These are namely, forensic science angle, political angle, judiciary angle, espionage angle, Eelam Tamil angle and Sinhalese angle. From our lessons in high school chemistry, one can note that benzene is the optimal example of the hexagon structure. Thus, the benzene analogy is apt here as well. The six carbons of the benzene ring are linked with three double bonds and three single bonds and exist in a resonating form. Similarly, the six angles of the Rajiv assassination event can also be visualized as existing in a double bond – single bond combination with each other. In the benzene ring, it is not possible to point out which carbon is the leading carbon or for that matter, one cannot de-link a carbon from the others without destabilizing the entire structure. The alternating double bonds and single bonds in the hexagonal ring of benzene also applies well to the six angles of the Rajiv assassination. However, the Indian operatives in law enforcement and judiciary, for reasons of convenience and for covering their lapses as well as saving their butts, focused only on the LTTE angle. In this segment, I focus on the forensic science angle of the assassination and cover the other angles in the forthcoming segments.

Two Books

As of now, two books in English have appeared in India, which covers the Rajiv assassination as their main themes. There may be a couple of others, which were published in early 1990s in haste by hucksters to make a ‘quick buck’. These ‘quickies’ are not worth intense scrutiny, since they were published before the results of judicial inquiry. Thus, I would focus my attention on the following two books.

1.  Beyond the Tigers: Tracking Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination, by Rajeev Sharma (Kaveri Books, New Delhi, 1998, 278 pages).

2.  The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries, by Subramanian Swamy (Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 2000, 317 pages).

Both books peddle their own spins. The first one was authored by a journalist, with probable sponsorship (factual and/or financial) from the Indian intelligence operatives. The foreword to this book was written by Raja Vijay Karan, who was the Director of CBI, during the time of Rajiv’s death. The second one was ‘authored’ by one of the political light-weights and egotistical-loudmouths in India, who presumably delivered this book to save his butt. Swamy was the Minister of Law and Commerce in the lame-duck Cabinet of Chandrasekhar, at the time of Rajiv’s death. Thus, both books deserve scrutiny for the information they provide, and in my opinion, both are complimentary in their focus.

The prosecution witnesses

When the Rajiv Gandhi assassination trial began, not much detail was known to the public about the prosecution witnesses. As one who was interested in the forensic science angle of the assassination, I had to wait till 1999 to find out the medical personnel who conducted the postmortem examinations of the victims. It was reported in the Indian news media that a total of 288 prosecution witnesses were presented. Among these, only 144 receive citation in the judgements delivered by Justice Wadhwa and Justice Thomas. From the Supreme Court verdicts delivered by Justices D.P.Wadhwa and K.T.Thomas on May 11, 1999, I compiled the names and annotations of these 144 prosecution witnesses. Justice Quadri did not cite a single witness in his brief judgement.

I’m not sure that until now, whether anyone else had taken the trouble to compile this detailed list, though I felt that, considering the ‘secrecy component’ attached to this assassination trail during its ‘Designation Court phase in Chennai’, it was worth an effort. I provide below the list of prosecution witnesses I had compiled. The abbreviation PW stands for ‘prosecution witness’. The list is in increasing numeral order. Missing numbers denote that those witnesses did not receive any citation in the judgement.

PW-18 C.S.Ganesh, Music Director

PW-19 D.Lakshmi Albert, Congress Party member & eyewitness on May 21, 1991

PW-20 Dr.Ramadevi, Congress Party member & eyewitness on May 21, 1991

PW-22 Sathyamoorthy, painter

PW-23 Bharathi, nurse & sister of Bhagyanathan (20th accused)

PW-27 Shanmugam, Congress Party member

PW-29 Maragatham Chandrasekhar, Congress Party MP for Sriperumpudur

PW-32 Anusuya, Sub Inspector of Police, Security, on duty at the Sriperumbudur meeting venue on May 21, 1991

PW-34 Sundararajan Murali

PW-35 Subramaniyan

PW-52 V.Thiagarajan, Superintendent of Police, CBI

PW-54 T.Soundara Pandian, worker at Ebenezer Stores, and employee of M.Utham Singh (PW-56)

PW-56 M.Utham Singh, property agent and proprietor of Ebenezer Stores

PW-57 K.Thiagarajan

PW-58 S.Kalyan Krishnan, owner of Easwari Lodge

PW-59 S.Raghu, of Studio Memory Makers, St.Thomas Mount, Madras

PW-60 V.Kantha Raja @ Chokan, house owner and LTTE sympathizer

PW-61 T.Panneer Selvam, Kavitha Driving School

PW-62 P.Thirumathi Vimala, teacher

PW-63 K.Kottammal, employee of Tamil Nadu State Electricity Board & owner of No.153, Muthamil Nagar, Kodungaiyur, Madras

PW-65 Mridula, a teacher & wife of Ranganath (26th accused)

PW-67 L.D.N.J.Wijesinghe, Senior Superintendent of Police, Sri Lanka, & interceptor of LTTE wireless transmissions

PW-70 Sowmya Narayanan, staff member of Telecom Department

PW-71 M.Janarthanam

PW-72 T.Ramamurthy, journalist

PW-73 Devasena Raj, colleague of Padma (21st accused)

PW-74 Meena, wife of T.Ramamurthy (PW-72)

PW-75 N.Vasantha Kumar, artist who compiled the two volumes of ‘Satanic Forces’ for LTTE

PW-77 Sankaran @ Gnani, journalist

PW-78 T.P.Sitther, wireless operator, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India

PW-81 Manivannan, videographer who made the tape of May 8, 1991 meeting addressed by V.P.Singh

PW-82 J.Duraisamy Naidu, owner of No.12, Eveready Colony, Kodungaiyur, Madras

PW-84 S.Mani, wireless decoder

PW-85 D.J.Swaminathan, neighbor of Jayakumar (10th accused) at Kodungaiyur

PW-86 M.Mariappan, houseworker of Shanmugham (diseased accused), Kodiakkarai

PW-88 Delip Chordia, dealer at International Tyre Service, Mount Road, Madras

PW-90 Rani, neighbor of Nalini (1st accused)

PW-91 N.Moideen, salesman at Hindustan Training Co., Royapettah High Road, Madras

PW-93 I.Suyambu, news correspondent & eyewitness of May 8, 1991 meeting addressed by V.P.Singh

PW-94 A.K.Anbalagan, salesman at Poompuhar Handicrafts [Tamil Nadu Govt. Sales Outlet], Madras

PW-95 R.Ravichandran, salesman at a showroom

PW-96 N.Sujaya Narayan, colleague of Nalini at Anabond Silicons Pvt.Ltd., Madras

PW-97 N.Chokkanathan, a distant relative of Bhaskaran (14th Accused)

PW-98 Hashmuth S.Setal, owner of Barathi Cycle Company

PW-99 Esylen Mantel, of Plot No.14, Eveready Colony, Kodungaiyur.

PW-100 A.Ravindra Reddy, Manager, Komala Vilas Lodge

PW-102 P.Veerappan, a travel agent for passports & renewal of old passports & visas

PW-104 S.Vaidyanathan, a clerk at Sriram Travels

PW-106 Y.R.Nagarajan, receptionist at Golden Lodge, Jaipur

PW-107 Ramasamy, car driver

PW-108 S.Santhana Krishnan, a friend of Hari Babu (deceased accused)

PW-109 Jayakumari, a Sri Lankan national who arrived in India in 1986 through ‘proper channel’

PW-111 Vijayendran, cinema actor

PW-114 C.Vamadevan, a Sri Lankan travel agent

PW-115 R.Ravi Srinivasan, a friend of Nalini (1st Accused)

PW-116 M.Girija Vallabhan

PW-117 R.Shankar, proprietor of Sriram Travels

PW-120 V.T.Sundaramani, father of Hari Babu (deceased accused)

PW-121 Dr.Cecelia Cyril, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-124 Dr.M.N.Damodaran, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-127 Dr.Jishnu Mohan, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-128 Arulmani

PW-129 Dr.N.Ramasamy, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-130 Dr.B.Santhakumar, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-132 Sasikala, teacher

PW-133 Karpagam, relative of Suseendran (17th Accused) and wife of D.Shanmugasundaram (PW-208)

PW-134 Dr.Veerapandian, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-146 Dr.T.S.Koshy, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-147 Dr.Amrit Patnaik, medical officer who conducted the postmortem on the dead body of suicide assassin Dhanu

PW-149 Latha

PW-150 Dr.Raja Venkatesh, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-151 K.Ravi Shankar, photo studio owner (owner of Hari Babu’s Chinon camera)

PW-153 V.P.Raghunathan, manager of Union Motors, Salem

PW-155 Dr.Kanagaraj, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-157 Lt.Col. Manik Sabharwal, bomb expert

PW-162 Dr.A.Srinivasan, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-163 Dr.E.V.Yuvaraj, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-165 Dr.Ponnusamy, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-166 Dr.Poongothai, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-168 S.V.Krishnan, Sundaram Finance Ltd.

PW-169 Dr.Saraswathi, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-171 S.Sundari, girlfriend of Hari Babu (deceased accused)

PW-172 P.V.Francis, Commander in Indian Navy

PW-178 A.Nageswara Rao, house owner of No.13, Park Avenue, Velan Nagar Extn., Alwarthirunagar, Madras

PW-179 M.Gunathilal Soni, manager of retail textile shop ‘Queen Corner’, Puruswakkom, where a chooridar (orange and green color) was sold on May 11, 1991

PW-182 Dr.Ramesh Kumar, medical officer who conducted postmortem of victims and examined the injured

PW-183 K.Varadarajan, auto-rickshaw driver at Thiruvallur

PW-185 P.G.Abeykoon Bandara, Deputy Controller, Dept.of Immigration and Emigration, Sri Lanka

PW-186 Brigadier Vivek Sapatnekar, IPKF Operations, Sri Lanka

PW-187 P.S.Padmanaban, a student of Madras Institute of Engineering Technology

PW-189 Gajalakshmi

PW-194 Dr.R.Kuppusamy

PW-195 R.Nagarajan, Congress Party member in Thiruvallur

PW-196 Ramkumar, partner of Krishna Hotel, New Delhi

PW-197 Dr.Claud Fernandez, dentist whose clinic was visited by Murugan (3rd accused) and Robert Payas (9th accused)

PW-198 P.Ramalingam, brother in law of Hari Babu (deceased accused) and son in law of Sundaramani (PW-120)

PW-199 V.Kannan

PW-200 S.Meera

PW-203 S.Chinnamani, a salesman at Metro Square, Pondy Bazaar, Madras

PW-205 A.Parimalam, elder sister of Hari Babu (deceased accused)

PW-206 Lokamatha, aunt of Ravichandran (16th Accused)

PW-208 Shanmugham Sundaram, husband of Karpagam (PW-133)

PW-210 M.Sankari, house owner and sister of Muthuraja (an LTTE activist)

PW-211 K.Jagannathan

PW-213 K.Periasami, a Dravida Kazhagam activist

PW-214 M.Chandra, a maid in the neighborhood of Kalyani Nursing Home

PW-215 Chamundeeswari, a resident of Sriperumpudur

PW-217 unnamed husband of PW-206

PW-218 E.Aanjanappa, owner of house in Puttan Halli

PW-222 K.N.Mohan, car mechanic & owner of motor garage, Bangalore

PW-223 R.Rajan

PW-226 R.Janaki

PW-227 K.Premkumar, a friend of Ranganath (26th accused)

PW-229 R.Jayashankar

PW-230 R.Selvaraj, driver of tanker lorry on June 27, 1991, from Mettur to Madras

PW-231 V.Radhakrishnan, Customs Dept, State Government (Tamil Nadu) & a friend of Arivu (18th accused)

PW-232 S.Syed Ibrahim, insurance surveyor

PW-233 K.Bharathi, nurse

PW-234 Mangaleswaran, in charge of Rameshwaram refugee camp

PW-235 Rose D.Nayagam, in charge of Tuticorin refugee camp

PW-236 R.D.Kalia, Police Inspector

PW-239 P.P.S.Dhillon, Flight Commander of the Helicopter Unit, Port Blair

PW-242 Kasi Anandhan, member of the Central Committee of LTTE

PW-243 Dr.L.Thirunavukkarasu, medical officer who conducted postmortem on the deceased accused, who committed suicide

PW-244 Dr.S.Rajendran, medical officer who conducted postmortem on the deceased accused, who committed suicide

PW-245 S.Vasudevan, cashier at petrol pump

PW-246 Dr.S.Maghivanan, medical officer who conducted postmortem on the deceased accused, who committed suicide

PW-247 Dr.T.Sankughavel Samy, medical officer who conducted postmortem on the deceased accused, who committed suicide

PW-252 Dr.G.J.Srinivasan, Assistant Director, Tamil Nadu Forensic Science Laboratory, Madras, and owner of No.26, Sabari Nagar Extn., Porur, Madras

PW-254 Mohanraj, wireless expert & Officer in Charge of International Monitoring Station, Perungudi, Madras

PW-255 Aveek Sarkar, journalist who interviewed Rajiv Gandhi on July 30-31, 1990, for the interview which appeared in the Sunday magazine Aug.12-19, 1990.

PW-256 A.Selvaraj

PW-258 Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi, President Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, & later Thamilzhaga Rajiv Congress

PW-260 Nagarathinam, attending laundry business in Kodiakkarai

PW-262 K.Ramakrishnan, handwriting expert

PW-266 Venkateswaran, Investigating Officer

PW-267 Ch.Gandhi, handwriting expert, who checked the handwriting of Sivarasan (deceased accused)

PW-271 P.P.Chandrsekara Nair

PW-273 K.S.Madhavan, Sub Inspector of Police, Tamil Nadu State Police

PW-280 Dr.P.Chandrasekaran, Director, Tamil Nadu Forensic Science Laboratory, Madras

PW-281 M.Narayanan, Deputy Superintendent of Police, CBI (one of the Investigating Officers)

PW-282 Velliapandi, Inspector, CBI

PW-285 R.Sivaji, Superintendent of Police, who arrested Santhan (2nd accused)

PW-288 K.Raghothaman, DSP, CBI, SIT, Chief Investigating Officer


Absence of a single research communication on the assassination

To the students of forensic science, the absence of a single research communication on Rajiv Gandhi assassination, in the public domain after a lapse of ten years is a real handicap. In comparison, the control case of John F.Kennedy assassination (see, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – part 25), by 1974, had generated over 10 research papers at the end of the first ten-year period. My source of reference is the Medline database, maintained by the National Library of Medicine of USA. As of now, over 35 research papers have appeared on the JFK assassination.

Among the 288 prosecution witnesses, 19 medical doctors (PW-121, PW-124, PW 127, PW-129, PW-130, PW-134, PW-146, PW-147, PW-150, PW-155, PW-163, PW-165, PW-166, PW-169, PW-182, PW-243, PW-244, PW-246 and PW-247) have been identified as those who carried out the postmortem examinations of the victims, injured persons and alleged assassin (Dhanu) and deceased accused (Hari Babu) and on May 21, 1991 and deceased accused (Sivarasan, Subha and five other accomplices) on August 20, 1991. Dr.P.Chandra Sekharan, the then director of Tamil Nadu Forensic Science Laboratory was identified as PW-280. One wonders why not even one of these 20 qualified personnel in India who were at the proper place at proper time have not bothered to present the forensic evidence to their professional colleagues in an appropriate professional journal.

From my search, I have gathered ‘bits and pieces’ of forensic details, only from the interviews granted by Dr.P.Chandra Sekharan to the Indian news media. Thus, I wish to quote some details, available from his two interviews: (1) Rediff on the Net (website) of October 14, 1999, and (2) The Hindu Opportunities (hinduonnet website) of November 22, 2000.

Postmortem details of Dhanu and Rajiv Gandhi

In his October 14, 1999 interview, Dr.Chandra Sekharan had stated,

“…I tried to go that night itself, but could not because of the road blocks and the riots taking place all over the city. When I reached the scene in the morning, the police had cordoned it off.

…When I inspected all the 18 bodies including Rajiv Gandhi’s – 17 bodies had been identified – there was one which was just an assembling of dismembered parts. From the hair and smooth skin, the absence of body hair, it was obvious that it was a female. I even correlated minor details like the same nail polish on finger and toenails. Only the head, the left forearm and two lower limbs were there, including some torn portions. The entire right hand and trunk of the body were missing. That gave me a clue that this was a woman who was a human bomb.

When we searched further, I found pieces of a denim vest with Velcro fastenings. This gave me an indication that the bomb might have been carried in an abdominal belt. You see, when I had been in England for a month on a case some time before, I had bought a similar vest with a Velcro fastening. The final conclusion was a belt-bomb carried by a woman.

This was confirmed by the photographs taken immediately after the blast. The bodies were all lying in a geometrical fashion or in lotus petal arrangement, all the feet pointing towards the centre. Normally, when human beings are knocked about above their centre of gravity, say in the chest, they fall flat. All the people standing around Rajiv had fallen around in a circle, so I concluded that the explosion occurred at a height of about three-and-a-half feet above the ground level.

Further examination revealed that the woman’s face was intact, so that anyone who had known her would be able to recognize her. But her scalp was avulsed, that is the fleshy portion of the back of the head was stripped off, exposing her skull neatly. This indicated that the explosives were worn on the back of her belt only. If they had been all around her waist, then the tangential force would have also stripped off her face beyond recognition…

In our country, it is common that if someone bends suddenly to touch your feet, you will reflexively try to stop them from doing so. This is what Rajiv was doing, so his face was exactly above her back and was completely blown off. His frontal face bones were thrown 100 metres away. His body was cremated without frontal face bones. His back was intact.

By studying these injuries, I was able to put up real live models and determine the position in which she was bending over, and how he was positioned over her. It took me just over 24 hours to draw these conclusions…”

The miraculous camera and its film

In the same interview, Dr.Chandra Sekharan had stated,

“I was in charge of this whole crime scene until the CBI came in, so the film from [photographer] Haribabu’s camera [who died in the blast] was developed in my laboratory. As soon as I saw photographs of this woman in a green dress in the pictures, I was able to say conclusively that this was the lady who had been the human bomb. It was not for me to find out who she was or whom she represented, but the identification of Dhanu and Sivarasan definitely helped the police to start solving the conspiracy angle of the crime.

It took me six months to produce a full crime scene reconstruction document. I used many photographs taken by press photographers just before and immediately after the crime.”

On the miraculous Chinon camera and the film prints which recorded Rajiv’s final moments, I entertain some doubts. I repeat, some doubts, though I do not question the authenticity of the reported facts. I cite two passages from Rajeev Sharma’s book, related to the Chinon camera and the film.

First passage: [not corrected for grammatical errors]

“As everybody, including the hit squad members fled after the blast, nobody noticed Haribabu’s camera. It lay on the photographer chest for quite some before a Tamil Nadu police officer, Raghavan, chanced upon it. Raghavan immediately opened the camera took out the reel and handed it over to a policeman to get it developed without any delay… Haribabu’s photos exposed the LTTE on May 24 when Dhanu’s photograph was published by The Hindu. Next day, other newspapers published another photograph, showing Dhanu holding a garland. By now, Dhanu was the suspected suicide bomber.” [Book: Beyond the Tigers, p.25]

Second passage:

“The official count of the injured persons went up to 22 two days after the explosion when Jayabalan, an amateur photographer, got himself admitted to a city hospital. He later told the SIT he remembered having clicked just before the explosion.

‘I saw Haribabu, another photographer, surrounded by several women. I also tried the same method from behind Haribabu and clicked once. The next moment the blast occurred. I felt a severe shock and thought for a second that there was an electric short circuit. Then something hit my leg.’

As Jayabalan bolted, he was hit again, this time on the back of his head. Blood started oozing out. ‘I cried for help and two policemen standing by the dais came forward. But as they saw a body of a police inspector, they rushed towards him’, he was quoted in the media as saying. He reached home on his own. After two days when the city became calm, Jayabalan handed over the camera with the film roll and his stained clothes to the DIG at the police headquarters. He had clicked at least eight frames. The unprocessed film he returned to the police contained the very last moments of Rajiv’s life.” [ibid, pp.37-38]

The reported observations of photographer Jayabalan is interesting in that they tell the last moments of deceased accused Haribabu, the photographer. The Indian press had immediately published the photos said to be developed from the purported film obtained from Haribabu’s camera by police officer Raghavan. One of the penultimate prints showed the backside of alleged assassin Dhanu’s head (with flowers), with Rajiv’s face towards the camera. That would reveal that Haribabu was behind Dhanu. According to Jayabalan, Haribabu was “standing on his toes and holding his camera over his head to get pictures of Rajiv Gandhi” and that his camera was ‘lying on his chest’ when it was picked up by police officer Raghavan.

The explosive found in the belt bomb

According to Dr.Chandra Sekharan,

“We also determined that the explosive used was RDX, that is, the research and development explosive developed in American laboratories for military use. It is a semisolid explosive that is like chappati dough and can be moulded to any shape. It is very dangerous, but does not ignite until you heat it to 197 degrees. It explodes at a detonating force of 29,000 feet per second and burns in one by ten-thousandth of second. The instantaneous burning makes it detonate at a very high velocity. It does not need any kind of shell or covering like a grenade.

The people who made this belt-bomb had embedded it with 2 mm steel pellets, roughly about 10,000 (we recovered about 6,000, and many are still living with these pellets embedded in them) in number. The idea of these pellets was that they would fly at a velocity of 29,000 feet per second in all directions, and add to the damage done. So many pellets were recovered from Rajiv’s body during the post-mortem and are in the museum in Delhi now…”

The outcome of forensic investigation

Dr.Chandra Sekharan in his November 2000 interview had observed:

“…In the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, I was handling the entire crime scene examination from the beginning. I reconstructed the scene of the blast with all the minute details and submitted a 100-page report with nearly 100 illustrations and photographs to CBI and the Verma Commission.”

Few queries

I summarise the observations made by Dr.Chandra Sekharan and my queries as follows:

Fact 1: Following impact with the belt bomb, Rajiv Gandhi’s frontal face bones were thrown 100 meters away. [That is a pretty long distance, almost covering the two goal posts of a football arena!]

Fact 2: The explosive used in the belt bomb had a detonating force of 29,000 feet per second.

Fact 3: All those who were within the 3 meter radius of the center of explosion had died, including the freelance photographer Hari Babu, who was holding the Chinon camera above his head to click at Rajiv.

Query 1: But Hari Babu’s Chinon camera lying in his chest did not suffer any damage. The film inside the camera did not suffer any exposure damage and the ten frames shot before the explosion were retrieved. A miracle indeed, considering that the Chinon camera used by Hari Babu was also held within the 3 meter radius, and that it (with all certainty) was not protected with a hard outer layer made up of lead or some damage resistant material.

Fact 4: It took six months for him to produce a full crime scene reconstruction document. This could be interpreted as that, from May 21, 1991 to end of November 1991, the complete details on the identity and the activity of the alleged assassin Dhanu was not reconstructed in full.

Query 2: If so, on what basis, the SIT personnel and the Indian press released information on Dhanu’s identity and her links to LTTE within days of the assassination (see, for example the above-cited first passage of Rajeev Sharma’s book) and before November 1991?

Query 3: Did Dr. Chandra Sekharan carry out a confirmatory ‘blast-damage’ experiment, using the same explosive and dummy targets (within the 3 meter radius from the center of explosion) to see whether the Chinon camera worn by the freelance photographer could not suffer any damage during the blast and that the film contained in the camera would not be exposed? If so, where did he carry out such an experiment?

Fact 5: Dr. Chandra Sekharan has stated in his Nov. 2000 interview [after nine years!], that he “submitted a 100-page report with nearly 100 illustrations and photographs to CBI and the Verma Commission.”

Query 4: Why he or none of his associates who were involved in the forensic analysis of the victims of May 21, 1991 event have not bothered to publish their forensic findings on such an important assassination, in a peer-reviewed medico-legal journal of international standing [which is abstracted in the National Library of Medicine’s, Medline database], until now? Isn’t this a professional negligence and discourtesy to other scientists?

Credibility of Dr. Chandra Sekharan’s professional competence

Although I’m hesitant to side-track from the issue of forensic evidence related to Rajiv assassination, I wish to bring to the attention of the readers the following news item which appeared in the Times of India of July 7, 2001, which brings into question the credibility of Dr. Chandra Sekharan’s professional competence. Interestingly, this may not be irrelevant to the Rajiv assassination studies as well. Thus, I reproduce the news item from Chennai in full:

Expert nails police video, faces music

“A leading forensic expert from Tamil Nadu, P.Chandra Sekharan, has termed the police version of the video clippings on the arrest of former CM Karunanidhi a ‘manipulated version’. In a statement on Thursday [i.e., July 5, 2001], Chandra Sekharan, who established the human bomb theory on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, contended that the police version looked ‘cruder than a fake photograph’. He was referring to a picture released by the earlier AIADMK government to show Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy and TADA prisoner Ravi together in order to imprison Swamy.

Commenting on the police clippings, Chandra Sekharan pointed out that scene of Union Industry and Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran punching CB-CID Mohamed Ali in the face was clearly a ‘repeated animation’ as it ‘did not exhibit the natural movements of a human hand, but did clearly demonstrate the rigid movement of an animated arm’. He further observed that the clippings of the police appeared in different versions and were manipulated digitally.

However, the government, denying Chandra Sekharan’s observations, initiated disciplinary proceedings against him. It accused him of having committed ‘certain omissions and commissions’ during his tenure as director of forensic science. It ordered an inquiry by a senior IAS officer into his actions.

An official release said: ‘It is not known whether it is a mere surmise by P.Chandra Sekharan since there is no scientific explanation offered for his conclusions. It is pointed out that by mere visual observation of a video clipping, such an opinion cannot be given. For forming and furnishing an opinion, examination is necessary of video morphing and video animation by computer graphic experts.”

I would be interested in learning more about the Tamil Nadu government’s accusation that Dr.Chandra Sekharan had committed ‘certain omissions and commissions’ during his tenure as director of forensic science. Whether these ‘omissions and commissions’ include his investigations on the Rajiv assassination is not clear now.

For record, I should include that Dr.Chandra Sekharan was a recipient of India’s Padma Bhushan award in 2000. I became interested in Dr.Chandra Sekharan’s curriculum vitae, which appeared in the Island (Colombo) newspaper of June 17, 2001, in relation to his services offered to Ms.Lakmani Welgama, the widow of the late Upali Wijewardene, in a document forgery case. Two statistics cited under his ‘professional experience’ in his curriculum vitae piqued my curiosity. These are,

1. “provided scientific evidence in more than a 100,000 cases.” This statistic is not a printer’s error, since it is mentioned in his pre-interview profile which appeared in the Rediff on the Net (Oct.14, 1999) as well. 100,000 cases in a career spanning “35 years” is a stupendous feat to achieve, by any scale of imagination. On an average, this amounts to 2,857 cases per year, and almost 8 cases per day for 12,775 days (i.e. 35 x 365 days). Even if one assumes that Dr.Chandra Sekharan did provide scientific evidence for 100,000 cases, what percent of these turned out to be accurate deserves scrutiny.

2. “published 11 books and done 250 research papers.” Though I cannot check the quality of his evidence for the said ‘100,000 cases’, I used an independent measure to scrutinize the quality of his ‘250 research papers’. The Medline database maintained by the National Library of Medicine (USA) incorporates into its computer files all the peer-reviewed research publications in biomedical sciences which appear in quality journals since 1965. This is the currently accepted ‘gold-standard’ for quality research among biomedical scientists. Dr.Chandra Sekharan’s career has a 35-year span, according to his vita; thus, all his quality publications would have been entered in the Medline database. When I checked the Medline database, using the two variants of his name [namely Chandra Sekharan P and Sekharan CP], I received only 21 listed research papers in the checklist. That is a pretty low figure for a scientist who prides himself as having 35 years of service and carrying the stature as the leading forensic scientist in India. Facts-checking scientists always need a control to validate their analysis. Thus, I used my 20-year publishing record as a control reference and when I used the two variants of my name [namely Kantha SS and Sri Kantha S], the same Medline database generated 39 research papers in the checklist. I have produced a little over 100 research papers in the past 20 years of my career as a scientist. Thus, my inference was that the quality of Dr.Chandra Sekharan’s ‘250 research papers’ (among which 21 are listed in the Medline database) is suboptimal to that of mine (102 research papers among which 39 are listed in the Medline database) indeed. I provide these details so that any interested reader can check the source for its validity.

I focused on these two statistics to demonstrate that Dr. Chandra Sekharan’s curriculum vitae reveals a not-too infrequent tendency seen among Indian academics to embellish their academic credentials to gullible public and journalists. Sad to say, this tendency is strongly seen among the Indian academics who had their postgraduate degrees in Indian institutions. According to the vita published in the Island newspaper of June 17, 2001, Dr.Chandra Sekharan has received the following degrees: B.Sc. Mathematics and Physics (Annamalai University), M.A.Physics with Electronics (Annamalai University), M.Sc.Physics with Spectroscopy (Annamalai University), Ph.D.Forensic Science Medical Faculty (Madras University). This is not a criticism on the quality of Indian education. Along history and even in the twentieth century, India had produced tens of originals in subjects ranging from astronomy to yoga science. But, for every tens of originals, thousands of fakes also coexist in the Indian mileau in every sphere of activity, who thrive by their skills of self promotion.

Use of DNA fingerprinting for forensic investigations in India

The Deccan Herald of Aug.21, 2001 carried a Press Trust of India news feature dated ‘New Delhi, Aug.20’ with a caption ‘Potential of DNA fingerprinting crippled by poor awareness’. It contained some relevant information about the Rajiv assassination case as presented by Dr.Lalji Singh, the Director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. Excerpts:

“…Dr.Singh has visited hundreds of court rooms across the country to be tried as ‘witness’, and says his experience has been ‘unpleasant’ and ‘full of suspicion’. He had even been accused of ‘playing on the ignorance of the judge’. This technology has mind boggling potential in criminal investigation. But then, we have to educate the judiciary of its vital import’. And the cases he helped investigate include Rajiv Gandhi assassination…

Establishing the identity of Dhanu, the suicide bomber who killed former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, was another occasion when the DNA probe was used: ‘We established that the DNA found in the skull, charred muscle pieces on the suicide bomber’s belt showed identical patterns, which led us to prove that Dhanu was the bomber.’ Equally crucial was comparing LTTE mastermind Sivarasan’s DNA to that of his parents who were flown in from Sri Lanka for the purpose: ‘Establishing the identity of Sivarasan was the only evidence we had to link the murder of Rajiv to LTTE’….”

The last sentence is nothing more than gibberish. According to Dr.Singh, they had compared the DNAs of Sivarasan with that of his parents ‘who were flown in from Sri Lanka for the purpose’. Similarities in the DNA pattern of Sivarasan to that of his ‘parents’ would only prove that Sivarasan was only a progeny of his ‘parents’ and nothing about ‘linking the murder of Rajiv to LTTE’. So much for the Indian journalese and facts-checking credentials.

Now, to the interesting puzzle about Sivarasan’s parents, as noted by Dr.Lalji Singh. On Sivarasan’s origins, the Eelam Tamil journalist D.B.S.Jeyaraj had published ‘an exclusive investigation’ in mid 1991 in the Frontline magazine, which was republished in the Lanka Guardian of Sept.15, 1991. According to this report, Sivarasan’s mother Sivapackiyam, who is from Chavakachcheri, was alive in 1991. [I’m not sure whether she is still alive.] But Sivarasan’s father Chandrasekharam Pillai, who is from Udupiddy, had died in late 1977. Thus, only one can be correct; either Jeyaraj or Dr.Singh. If Jeyaraj is correct in his report, that Sivarasan’s father had died in late 1977, the person who was flown from Sri Lanka to India for DNA finger printing match with Sivarasan’s sample was a consenting impersonator. Thus collapses the credibility of India’s forensic scientists who were engaged in the Rajiv assassination case. (Continued)