The Lady Vanishes
‘The Lady Vanishes’ was an Alfred Hitchcock thriller released in 1938. In that movie, Hitchcock spun a suspense yarn revolving around a young girl on a train meeting an old lady who befriends her, and then vanishes following an accident (a flower-pot falling on the head) to the heroine. In that yarn, Hitchcock included a parade of bizarre characters such as a circus magician, a baroness, a brain surgeon, a nurse dressed as a nun, a wealthy official with his mistress, and two cricket enthusiasts who were concerned only about ‘the game’, to push the storyline about that old lady trying to deliver a coded message in a lullaby about a covert treaty between two powers.
What happened on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur can be portrayed as a reverse Hitchcock’s plot, where an old lady (Maragatham Chandrasekar) was befriended by a young girl (Dhanu) and her handlers, who precipitated all the uproar with a suicidal bomb-blast that the heroine never thought would happen in her electorate. Maragatham Chandrasekar was the then sitting MP for Sriperumbudur, winning the 1989 election on Congress Party ticket, by defeating K.Ganesan of DMK by a margin of 154,551 votes. She won the 1991 election as well in Sriperumbudur after Rajiv’s assassination, for the Congress Party, defeating K.Sundaram of DMK by a margin of 180,572 votes.
The political drama (spun around post hoc ‘decoding’ of coded messages between the LTTE cadres in Eelam and Tamil Nadu by the invariably clever spooks of India) staged in the past ten years in the trial court, Commission sittings, Interpol Red Notice on Pirabhakaran, extradition request from India, with additional ingredients such as Yasser Arafat’s prior warning on assassination, third grade intelligence ‘leads’ from Colombo, Swedish Bofors arms deals, ‘Italian connection’ from Sonia’s side, India’s ‘godman’ Chandra Swamy and his links to bizarre characters (international arms dealers, Narasimha Rao and Subramanian Swamy) in the legal, political and media arenas could have provided headache and constipation, even to Hitchcock.
While the young girl Dhanu literally vanished at the end of her act, Maragatham Chandrasekar made her exit from this world less than two months ago, on October 26, 2001. In my opinion, she had carried a lot of secrets to the grave related to Rajiv’s murder with her. Here is the brief obituary notice of hers, which appeared in the Hindu newspaper the following day.
“The former Union Minister and five-time Lok Sabha member, Ms.Maragatham Chandrasekar, passed away in a [Chennai] city hospital here this evening. She was 84. She started her political career in 1952 as Deputy Minister for Health in Nehru’s Ministry. She had served in the Ministries of Sastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. She was last elected from Sriperumbudur in 1991, and it was there that the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated while addressing her election rally on May 21.
Apart from serving the AICC as its general secretary, she was also Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president for a brief period during the eighties. She was a Rajya Sabha member for three terms, before reverting back to the Lok Sabha in 1984. She is survived by son, Mr.Lalit Chandrasekar, and daughter, Ms.Latha Priyakumar.” [Hindu, Oct.27, 2001]
Kindly note the name Latha Priyakumar, the daughter of Maragatham Chandrasekar. Her name was also highlighted and linked to the events which happened on the night of May 21, 1991. Latha Priyakumar, contested the Sriperumbudur constituency in the 1996 election in place of her mother on the Congress Party ticket, but was defeated by T.Nagaratnam of DMK by a margin of 245,711 votes. She also performed a ‘vanishing act’ while inquiries were progressing, about which attention will be given later in this chapter. This mother-daughter duo, who organized the May 1991 campaign meeting for which Rajiv was invited to attend, were not included in the charge-sheet prepared by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of India’s CBI. This is because they were ‘sharks’ swimming in the Tamil Nadu Congress politics for decades. But, the mother-daughter duo [Padma and Nalini, who organized the safe houses for LTTE cadres in Tamil Nadu] were listed in the charge-sheet prepared by the SIT. This is because, these two were ‘sprats’ floating in the Tamil Nadu mileau. This explains the political angle of the Rajiv assassination.
Subramanian Swamy, in his book on the assassination, has recorded Maragatham Chandrasekar’s role on the events of May 21, 1991 as follows:
“…The meeting was organized by Mrs.M.Chandrasekhar, a Congress (I) candidate from Sriperumbudur parliamentary constituency, to canvass support for her and other Congress (I) candidates for Assembly constituencies from that area. The Sriperumbudur meeting was Rajiv Gandhi’s first regular meeting in Tamil Nadu during the election. Newspapers of May 19 carried Rajiv Gandhi’s proposed visit to Tamil Nadu including Sriperumbudur. Journey details were, however, finalized only as late as May 20. As per his programme, Rajiv Gandhi was to arrive at the venue of the meeting at 9pm but as his aircraft developed problems in Visakhapatnam, his departure was delayed by an hour. He arrived more than an hour late. Sri Perumbudur is located at a distance of 48 kms south-west of Madras on the Madras-Bangalore national highway.
Although RG told a naval officer in Visakhapatnam that it was Mrs.Maragatham Chandrasekhar who would be anxious and disappointed if he did not make it to Sriperumbudur, Mrs.Chandrasekhar on the other hand told the Jain Commission that she had never requested the meeting [Vol.I, chapter I-III, p.68]” [Book: The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, 2000, pp.122-123]
Dr.Swamy’s views, irrespective of his self-serving pronouncements and anti-LTTE propaganda, deserve attention since at the time of Rajiv assassination he held the portfolio of Minister of Law and Commerce in the lame-duck cabinet of Chandrasekhar. Thus, until he lost that status in June 1991, it is reasonable to infer that he would have received privileged information on the events of May 21, 1991 from official sources. However, caution is needed in assessing the information relating to what Dr.Swamy promotes, exaggerates and hides. Thus, though I have not come across another reference (even from that of Dr.P.Chandra Sekharan, the then chief forensic scientist of Tamil Nadu) related to the dispersal of Rajiv Gandhi’s body after the bomb blast, I cite the following details stated by Dr.Swamy in his book:
“The body of Rajiv Gandhi was flung about 1.85 metres eastwards (towards the barricade) with face downwards due to the powerful blast. His body was found intermingled with other badly mutilated bodies of policemen. When the explosion occurred, K.Ramamurthy, TNCC-I President, was on the dais and G.K.Moopanar, former party general secretary a little distance away, behind the dais. Both escaped unhurt. Mrs. Chandrasekhar who was hurt was luckily ahead of Rajiv Gandhi, but at some distance, outside the 3-metre radius killer zone.” [ibid, p.115]
Considering that politicians everywhere like to project themselves in front of cameras and videos, and that in India a leader of Rajiv Gandhi’s stature would be always surrounded by fawning local politicians, it still puzzles me that why on that critical moment of bomb blast, the three Congress Party politicians [namely, Maragatham Chandrasekar, G.K.Moopanar and K.Ramamurthy] were not within the three-meter killer zone radius. Of course, Maragatham Chandrasekar did receive some injury, but Moopanar and K.Ramamurthy escaped unhurt. Also the location of Ms. Latha Priyakumar, another Congress bigwig and daughter of Mrs.Chandrasekar, at the time of bomb blast has not been reported clearly. Few months ago, Moopanar also made his final exit from this world and like Maragatham Chandrasekar, he also could have carried some secrets with him to the grave.
Political Game played by the SIT
Little over an year ago, the abduction of Kannada movie star Rajkumar by the bandit Veerappan’s gang made a splashing story for a couple of weeks in the Indian newsmedia. When that story came to its ending with the release of Rajkumar through the mediation of P.Nedumaran, one of the leading LTTE sympathizers in Tamil Nadu, a couple of additional names were highlighted as those having camaraderie with LTTE. One of these names was Kolathur Mani alias T.S.Mani. For relevance to political angle taken by the SIT officials in the Rajiv’s assassination investigation, I reproduce excerpts from a commentary authored by L.R.Jagadheesan from Chennai on Nov.19, 2000, which appeared in the India Today magazine’s website.
“…Very few people know that there were serious differences of opinion within the SIT on how to treat Mani’s role in the Rajiv assassination case. While some officials felt he should be booked as an accused in the case, since he had arranged the tanker lorry which carried the killers from one hideout to another, others, particularly one senior officer, felt he should not be made an accused, for two strategic reasons:
1. The SIT team reportedly took a conscious decision to avoid booking Indian politicians as accused in the Rajiv assassination case. The CBI sleuths felt naming politicians as accused would hamper the investigation and divert the attention of the case and its seriousness. Mani, being the Salem district Dravidar Kazhagam office bearer, was let off on this count.
2. Senior SIT officials felt Mani was an important source of information on the LTTE’s involvement and so was not named as an accused in the case.”
The first stated reason let the ‘proverbial cat’ out of its bag, after a passage of eight years since the SIT charge sheeted 41 individuals as the accused in the Rajiv assassination trial. If this reason was legitimate, the extent of duplicity perpetrated by the SIT operatives in the assassination trial from 1992 to 2000 confirms the observation made by Mahatma Gandhi in 1909 about the so-called ‘justice under the law’. Noted the then 40-year old barrister who knew his beans on legal issues,
“It is wrong to consider that courts are established for the benefit of people. Those who want to perpetuate their power do so through the courts” [political pamphlet: Hind Swaraj or Critique of Modern Civilization]
My take on why Kolathur Mani was not charged by the SIT in the Rajiv assassination trial was that, apart from the valid second reason (mentioned above, by which SIT would use him as a ‘cheese piece’ in the trap to pry on LTTE’s activities in Tamil Nadu), he was let off mainly to protect the Congress Party operatives Maragatham Chandrasekar and Latha Priyakumar.
Assassination story in Karunanidhi’s script
The DMK leader M.Karunanidhi has been a public figure in Tamil Nadu for the past five decades, and a prominent all-Indian politician since 1965. Thus he has experienced his peaks and valleys umpteen times. There are many who do not grant a good grade for his politics, but there has been no second opinion among Tamils (and this included his friends turned-political adversaries like poet Kannadasan and MGR) that as a professional scriptwriter in Tamil stage and screen, Karunanidhi is without peers. So, it is apt to read how Karunanidhi had described the Rajiv assassination from his vantage pedestal as a scriptwriter.
In a 1997 interview he granted to the Frontline magazine’s editor N.Ram and correspondent T.S.Subramanian following the release of interim report of Jain Commission findings, Karunanidhi had stated the following:
“…If, I, as a writer, were asked to write a story on this assassination case, I would write it as follows: Some stories introduce a hero and a heroine, they go forward and finally end in a conclusion. Some stories begin with the climax and are then narrated in flashback. As far as this story is concerned, it is one that should begin with the climax.
How should it begin? How did the human bomb Dhanu, charge-sheeted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, come to Tamil Nadu? Who came with her? Where did she stay and with whom did she stay? Who took her to Sriperumbudur? Who arranged the programme of Rajiv Gandhi? Who suddenly made changes in the programme? To what places did Sivarajan go in Tamil Nadu? Why could Sivarajan not be apprehended till he went to Bangalore? It is said that the place where Sivarajan stayed and was cornered in Bangalore belongs to a Congressman. What are the details?
At the place where Rajiv Gandhi died, no Congressman was injured. The persons who died there were police officers who provided him security. At this point of time, there was an alliance between Rajiv Gandhi’s party, the Congress (I), and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Why did no candidate belonging to that alliance go to the public meeting addressed by Rajiv Gandhi? After his death, why was no effort made to see the body at the airport? Not only that. When Rajiv Gandhi traveled from the airport to Chennai, though Jayalalitha was not then in town, did any AIADMK candidate who contested with Congress (I) support, or any AIADMK worker, receive him? …” [Frontline magazine, Nov.29-Dec.12, 1997]
Murasoli Maran’s queries
Though ten years, two Commissions (Verma and Jain), and two legal trials (Designated Court under TADA and Supreme Court appeal) pertaining to Rajiv assassination have passed into history, answers to every question raised by Karunanidhi have not been forthcoming from those who ascended to the inquisitor’s pedestal. Karunanidhi’s queries was reiterated by his nephew Murasoli Maran, currently a federal cabinet minister in the India, when the Final Report of the Jain Commission was debated in the Lok Sabha on Aug.5, 1998. Maran’s concluding remarks in the debate are as follows:
Shri Murasoli Maran (Madras Central): “…I want to know how Sriperumbudur meeting was organized at such a short notice? How as Rajivji persuaded to accept the invitation when some senior leaders of the Congress were not enthusiastic about it? Where did the human bomb obtain local hospitality? That is very important. Whose guest was she? She could have been a guest of somebody else. How was she able to approach the target breaking the security cordon? … (Interruptions) This is called access theory. Shri K.Subrahmanian, of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis pointed out that there is unwillingness to go into those issues because of the fear that such an exercise would reflect…(Interruptions)
Mr.Speaker: Shri Maran, please conclude.
Shri Murasoli Maran (Madras Central): I would conclude shortly, Sir. There was unwillingness. I want my friends to note that if they want to get to the truth, it is very important to examine the aspect of access to the target. Generally, in the investigation of a murder case, it is very important to know as to how the murderer approached the victim. That question was not taken up at all. We are not afraid of MDMA because we have nothing to fear and nothing to hide. [Note: MDMA is the abbreviation for the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency, formed by the Union Home Ministry of India to probe the larger conspiracy in Rajiv’s assassination, following the recommendations made by the Jain Commission in early 1998] We know the BJP leaders for several years… (Interruptions) We have warmed lot of these benches in this House and the other House for more than three decades. We have seen a lot of politics together. I always carried a lofty impression about the BJP leaders like hon. Prime Minister Atalji [Vajpayee] and hon. Home Minister Advaniji – I still do. But I am shocked to see how the great leaders, the tall leaders, could descend to such a low level. I am sorry for them. We understand their political compulsions. So be it! Thank you.” [Lok Sabha Debates, Aug.5, 1998]
When Murasoli Maran made this speech, he was not a cabinet minister. Then, AIADMK was aligned to the BJP, and M.Thambi Durai, an AIADMK politician, was the Minister of Law and Justice. Shortwhile later, a political realignment resulted by which DMK aligned to the BJP, following AIADMK’s exit. I believe that the MDMA, referred to by Murasoli Maran, was set up by the BJP for two reasons: one, as an exhaust valve to release the political hot air emanating from Congress Party circles. The second reason was ominous: to rein on Pirabhakaran’s political activities at the international forums.
Pirabhakaran’s status in the Rajiv assassination case
It is appropriate to analyze now the status of Pirabhakaran in the Rajiv assassination case. Since May 1992, his status has been variously described (for reasons of ignorance or malice) as absconder, accused, criminal, fugitive, proclaimed offender and suspect. Legally speaking, each of these terms has subtle difference among them and they cannot be used interchangeably. The Black’s Law Dictionary (1979, 5th edition) distinguishes each of these terms as follows:
Abscond [or absconder]: To go in a clandestine manner out of the jurisdiction of the courts, or to lie concealed, in order to avoid their process. To hide, conceal, or absent oneself clandestinely, with the intent to avoid legal process.
Accused: The generic name for the defendant in a criminal case. Person becomes ‘accused’ within meaning of guarantee of speedy trial only at point at which either formal indictment or information has been returned against him, or when he becomes subject to actual restraints on his liberty imposed by arrest, whichever first occurs.
Criminal: One who has committed a criminal offense; one who has been legally convicted of a crime; one adjudged guilty of crime.
Fugitive: One who flees; used in criminal law with the implication of a flight, evasion or escape from arrest, prosecution or imprisonment.
Suspect: A person reputed or suspected to be involved in a crime.
Among these five terms, two (criminal and fugitive) are unapplicable to Pirabhakaran. As of now, he has not been legally convicted of the crime in the Rajiv’s assassination trial held in India. According to the legal system adopted in India, one cannot be tried in absentia. Also, he is not a fugitive. The assassination took place in India, and Pirabhakaran was not present at the scene of crime according to the collected documents and he has been residing beyond the boundaries of India since January 1987. Thus, technically the term ‘fugitive’ is nonsensical to use on Pirabhakaran. However, politicians speak nonsense, and the ex-Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake is no exception. An year ago, he had alluded to Pirabhakaran as a fugitive with the comment, ‘When a fugitive wants to talk peace, it would be the priority of the Government to think on those lines rather than act to extradite him’ [Hindu newspaper, Dec.4, 2000]
The legal documents prepared in India label him as ‘absconding accused’, combining the two terms absconder and accused. That Pirabhakaran is absconding from the Indian operatives is laughable; it can be true, if it is qualified to include the information that for valid reasons in the past, Pirabhakaran has absconded from the Indian Intelligence-wallahs to avoid unnecessary harassment. Also, he is not a citizen of India. Thus, he is at liberty to choose whom he should meet or not. The description ‘accused’ also does not fit properly to Pirabhakaran’s status. According to one definition of the term ‘accused’ in the Black’s Law Dictionary, he has not been subjected “to actual restraints on his liberty imposed by arrest”. Though Pirabhakaran can be classified as an ‘accused’ on the description that ‘formal indictment or information has been returned against him’, the question arises whether such an indictment was personally delivered to him by a messenger from the court. Since he has been living in Eelam, beyond the jurisdiction of Indian courts, a news-release making him an ‘accused’ in the Rajiv assassination trial would not be an acceptable criterion. If facts are to be believed, Pirabhakaran was publicized as an ‘accused’ in the charge sheet prepared by the SIT in May 1992. He should have been served with court summons. And there exists no public record that Pirabhakaran accepted such a court summons from the official Indian representatives in Sri Lanka, assuming that such a document has in fact been delivered from India. In the absence of such validation, it is inappropriate to label him as an ‘accused’ with whatever prefixes. This brings us to the question of extradition of Pirabhakaran from Sri Lanka.
Politics of Extradition
I provide below five selected reports and commentaries, which have appeared in the newsmedia since 1997, related to Pirabhakaran’s extradition to India. The last four reports appeared a little more than an year ago. The humor in each of the five features is self-evident.
Documents pertaining to Prabhakaran’s extradition under study
[by Upali Rupasinghe]
“Deputy Inspector General of Police (CID), T.V.Sumanasekera told newsmen here that documents pertaining to LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s extradition, which also include evidence of his allgeged involvement in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination had been taken into cognizance. Mr. Sumanasekera, now attending the ongoing Interpol conference said this move followed India’s request for the LTTE chief’s extradition. He said a search was on for Prabhakaran who is also the prime accused in the suicide bomb attack on the Central Bank in Colombo last year. The Attorney-General is examining India’s request, he said. ‘The army after re-taking Jaffna peninsula is now in the process of liberating the main supply route from Colombo to Jaffna and after this the possibility of Prabhakaran’s arrest will improve’ Mr.Sumanasekera said.” [Ceylon Daily News, Oct.22, 1997]
Advani vows to extradite Prabhakaran
[by Jawed Naqvi]
“In remarks possibly aimed at placating a livid opposition, Indian Home Minister Lal Krishan Advani has committed himself to extraditing Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, but diplomatic sources said on Friday the idea was far-fetched. ‘It is a bit of quixotic dream if taken seriously’, said a diplomat in New Delhi. ‘Mr Advani is probably playing to an extraordinarily gullible audience’.
The diplomat’s comments complemented remarks to this correspondent complemented remarks to this correspondent two years ago by the late Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike who thought that the idea to arrest Prabhakaran ‘was laughable’. ‘India wants us to arrest him when we ourselves do not know where to find him’, Bandaranaike had chuckled, in response to an Indian-inspired Interpol red corner alert for Prabhakaran.
Newspapers in Delhi quoted Advani as telling parliament on Thursday [Nov.30, 2000] that Indian officials had visited Colombo a week ago to seek the extradition of the head of Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) team was in Sri Lanka between Nov 13 and 23 and met the attorney general and solicitor general…
Prabhakaran has been found guilty by a special trial court in India of conspiracy in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 by a woman suicide bomber.” [Dawn newspaper, Karachchi, Dec.3, 2000]
Note: The last statement is not correct. Pirabhakaran was not under trial at the Special Court which convened at Poonamalee. But, in reports about Pirabhakaran such inaccuracies are abundant due to the ignorance of reporters.
India seeks Lanka’s help to probe Tiger links
[AFP newsreport from Colombo]
“India has sought Sri Lanka’s help to investigate possible links between the island’s Tamil Tiger rebels and politicians in Tamil Nadu, reports said here on Sunday. New Delhi, which sought the extradition of Sri Lanka’s top Tamil Tiger supreme Velupillai Prabhakaran in June 1995, had a team of officials visiting Colombo last month for routine follow-up action, officials and diplomats said.
The Sunday Times said the Indian team ‘reviewed an earlier request’ that Delhi had made for the extradition of Prabhakaran, wanted in connection with the 1991 assassination of former Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi. However, another private newspaper, the Sunday Leader, quoted Sri Lankan attorney general K.C.Kamalasabayson as saying that Indian officials had not specifically asked for Prabhakaran’s extradition this time. Kamalasabayson said the Indians wanted to interview a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) identified as ‘Nixon’ who is in police custody here.
Calling for extradition was ‘a formal procedural exercise and was not a specific request made during the team’s visit’ Kamalasabayson was quoted as saying. Sri Lanka’s attorney general’s department was not immediately available for comment. The extradition of Prabhakaran will remain an academic question as long as the 46 year-old rebel leader remains at large. He is believed to be somewhere in the island’s north-east…” [Rediff.com. News website, Dec.4, 2000]
‘MDMA did not discuss Prabhakaran extradition’
The Attorney-General of Sri Lanka, Mr.K.C.Kamalasabeyson, has said the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) team that was here last month did not raise extradition of the LTTE leader, Mr.Velupillai Prabhakaran. Mr. Kamalasabeyson told the Sunday Leader that the Indian team wanted to interrogate an LTTE suspect, Nixon, who is in custody here and was allegedly involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi.
Though permission was refused, the Attorney-General obtained a court order permitting Sri Lanka’s CID to interrogate him and record his statement in the presence of the MDMA team. The MDMA was set up by the Home Ministry in 1998 to follow up leads that were said to have emerged from the Jain Commission of Inquiry into the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. The Home Minister, Mr.L.K.Advani’s statement in Parliament last week that the MDMA was in Sri Lanka to press for the extradition of Mr.Prabhakaran has already had its impact…” [Hindu newspaper, Dec.4, 2000]
The fast forward generation
“…What is one to make of [Union Home Minister L.K.] Advani’s assertion in parliament that the special team that visited Sri Lanka recently had raised the Prabhakaran extradition issue and Colombo’s bland denial that it never did? The Sri Lankan authorities have gone one step further saying that they have other fish to fry than take up the extradition issue at this juncture when the peace moves are gathering momentum.
Did not the External Affairs Ministry brief Advani properly? Or is it the government’s case that the media have blown out of proportion a routine answer in the House? Who will deny that the government has egg on its face? …” [Chennai Online website, Dec.5, 2000]
From the above-cited five features, one can itemize a few observations. One, Pirabhakaran always offers a good copy to the newsmedia in the Indian subcontinent. Two, one should never underestimate the agony of the Sri Lankan army and its ever-quotable spokesman who in 1997 predicted that the possibility of Prabhakaran’s arrest would improve with the liberation of the main supply route from Colombo to Jaffna. Three, Sirimavo Bandaranaike did possess some level of comprehension to quote that the idea of arresting Pirabhakaran ‘was laughable’. Four, India’s pompous mandarins wouldn’t care much about having an egg in their faces occasionally.
The proverbial ‘egg on its face’ policy followed by the mandarins of India brings to my memory another humorous anecdote which happened three months after Rajiv’s assassination. In August 1991, when the Soviet coup plotters succeeded in short-circuiting Gorbachev’s command for a day or two, the policy mandarins from India hurriedly sent a telex message congratulating the Soviet coup plotters for their success in the execution of a political change in that country.
To sum up on Pirabhakaran’s current status in India as per Rajiv assassination trial, I am of the opinion that technically he is only a ‘suspect’ and nothing more. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines suspect as ‘a person reputed or suspected to be involved in a crime’ (p.1297). It also defines ‘suspicion’ as ‘belief or opinion based upon facts or circumstances which do not amount to proof’ (p.1298).
Torturing of Facts
Since suspicion is defined as ‘belief or opinion based upon facts or circumstances which do not amount to proof’, I wish to analyze how the SIT collected the facts, and whether it tortured vital facts pertaining to Rajiv assassination. In scientific analysis, facts are equated to assembled data.
James Mills wrote a perspective commentary on, ‘Data Torturing’ prevalent among scientists. It appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine of Oct.14, 1993. In this commentary, Mills identified two types of data torturing. These being,
(1) Opportunistic data torturing, where the analyst simply pores over the data until a significant association is found between variables and then devises a biologically plausible hypothesis to fit the association.
(2) Procrustean data torturing, where the analyst first decide on the hypothesis to be proved and make the data fit the hypothesis. The adjective ‘Procrustean’ is derived from a robber named Procrustes in Greek mythology. [According to this myth, he haunted the travelers along the road to Athens and pledged hospitality to the travelers with a magical bed that would fit any guest. When the guests came to rest on his bed, Procrustes either stretched the guests or cut off their limbs to fit them perfectly into his magical bed.]
After ten years, it is becoming clear that the SIT operatives led by D.R.Kartikeyan basically carried out Procrustean data torturing for an year from the date of assassination to come out with their charge sheet on May 20, 1992, implicating Pirabhakaran and LTTE. Their hypothesis was ‘LTTE did it’ and they chose (or left out) data which did (or did not) fit their convenient hypothesis. The revelation in the India Today magazine (Nov.19, 2000; cited above) that the SIT team reportedly took a conscious decision to avoid booking Indian politicians as accused in the Rajiv assassination case is a pointer to its Procrustean data torturing technique.
Mr. Kartigeyan, the assigned chief investigating officer of SIT, was interviewed by Suhasini Haidar for the Rediff.com website, following the Supreme Court appeals verdict, on May 14, 1999. He had stated that his ‘job was like that of a scientist in a laboratory’. I quote some excerpts.
Question: “What is your reaction to the SC judgment that confirmed death only to 4 of the 26? Does it hurt that although the apex court praised your work, they ended up releasing 19 of the accused?
Kartigeyan: No, it doesn’t hurt, and I would like to say at the outset that I genuinely believe that truth does prevail. My task was to find the truth behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. I did that. It is not for me to convict or acquit these people. After all, that is the process of law. If it was up to me to punish the guilty, then why bother with the trial court in Madras? Similarly, if the special court’s judgment could not be overruled, then why would there be a process of appeals in the Supreme Court? In any case, from what I understand of this judgment, the Supreme Court 3-judge bench has not said these people were not guilty. They have released them because in their opinion, they were not guilty of ‘an act of terror’. And that is a matter of opinion. I mean, I might feel that Rajiv Gandhi was killed for decisions he took as the prime minister of this country, but they might feel it was a personal thing. And the fact is that they did convict 7 people.
Question: The judgment also spoke of a ‘paucity of evidence’. Were you satisfied with the extent of evidence produced during the investigations?
Kartikeyan: Look, my job was like that of a scientist in a laboratory. I can only find evidence that is already there. Me and my team worked 7 days a week, 20 hours a day for a whole year. We viewed 500 videocassettes, scanned thousands of photographs, and interrogated 5,000 people. All together, our evidence would probably fill this room. Whatever evidence was there, we produced that. But we couldn’t concoct evidence, and I refused outright to allow any doubtful information, even if it was merely to help make ‘the truth appear to be true’…” [Rediff.com website news, May 14, 1999]
Though, Kartikeyan had asserted that he had submitted evidence (which fit his hypothesis derived from Procrustean data torturing), other reports had appeared that he also consciously omitted data which were of political significance.
Some of Kartikeyan’s omissions have been reported by Rajeev Sharma in his 1998 book. To quote from the chapter 7 entitled ‘Sins of Omission’ of this book,
“… Justice Verma’s report said: ‘This part of the report of the DIB [relating to the then Director of Intelligence Bureau, M.K.Narayanan, who submitted a report to the then Prime Minister Chandra Sekhar on May 22, 1991, following his inspection of the assassination site] mentioning the fact that scanning of video pictures was being done to identify the lady does indicate that on 22.5.91, there were available video pictures of that part of the meeting which could reveal the identification of the suspected human bomb. No such video pictures were made available by the SIT or Tamil Nadu police and it was specifically stated by the SIT chief, D.R.Kartikeyan that no other video cassettes were available with the SIT.
The commission pointed out this unusual feature of the video cassette to the SIT chief D.R.Kartikeyan since it may have greater significance for investigation of the crime even though to the commission it amounts to absence of some useful evidence alone.’ [Italics are retained as in the original.]
Kartikeyan later told the Verma panel that foreign experts were examining the cassettes to find out whether these had been tampered with to obliterate any part of the recording. The commission was told at its last sitting that the outcome of that inquiry was awaited.
The SIT produced four video cassettes before the Verma commission. The Tamil Nadu congress committee had got Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Sriperumbudur recorded on video from the time he landed at Meenambakkam airport. But the organizers told the commission that they did not have the cassettes and believed the police had seized them.
Justice Verma said in an extremely meaningful observation: ‘The commission refrains from commenting on this aspect since it can be avoided in this inquiry but may have significance in some other proceeding.’
Two video cassettes had the recording of the May 21 event and the third of the next day. The May 21 cassettes were screened at an open hearing of the Verma commission. These were blurred at the crucial portions and neither showed the actual assassination taking place nor focused on the suicide bomber. Crucial questions arise. Was Rajiv’s assassination videographed till the very last second? Did the camera focus on the hit squad members? Who all were seated or standing near Dhanu and Sivarasan? If the cassettes were intentionally blurred, who ordered their tampering and why? Were Rajiv’s assassins standing close to any prominent person? If so, who are they?” [Book: Beyond the Tigers, 1998, pp.126-127]
Latha Priyakumar’s evasion
One of the eye-witnesses to the Rajiv assassination who has evaded inquisition was Ms. Latha Priyakumar, the daughter of Mrs. Maragatham Chandrasekar. She does not even receive mention by name in Subramanian Swamy’s book on the assassination. Considering the personality of Swamy who needles everyone at the slightest occasion, this omission is surprising. But, Rajeev Sharma’s book provides details on the discomfort faced by Ms. Latha Priyakumar during the hearings of Verma Commission. To quote a page from Rajeev Sharma on this issue,
“It was Kumudavalli, a Congress party member, who put Latha Priyakumar in the dock. She filed an affidavit before the Verma commission stating she saw Latha Kannan and Kokila (the mother-daughter duo who were in the receiving line of Rajiv before Dhanu, and Kokila was the one who was scheduled to read a Hindi poem to Rajiv) getting off from Latha Priyakumar’s car at the public meeting venue at Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991. Later she saw Kannan and Kokila talking with Dhanu and Sivarasan, while they waited for Rajiv.
Did Latha Priyakumar actually help Kokila gain access to Rajiv? Justice Verma says this by itself might not be of much significance. In a clear indictment of Latha Priyakumar, he says: ‘Latha Priyakumar does not appear to be a credible witness. Her deposition does not appear to be forthright and she gave the impression of withholding some knowledge she has’.
C.S.Vaidyanathan, councel for [police] officers of Tamil Nadu, blamed Latha Priyakumar for breach of access control by securing permission for Kokila to recite a poem from the queue of garlanders which took more time than the act of garlanding. This detained Rajiv increasing the risk to him, he argued.
Latha Priyakumar insisted she reached the venue only after 9pm even though witnesses, including Lakshmi Albert, said she was present from 8.30pm. Priyakumar admitted having left between Arakkonam at 7pm and 7.30pm in a taxi for Sriperumbudur. Rajiv’s meeting was scheduled for 9pm and she had to cover about 40 to 45 kilometres, she could not have taken more than an hour to reach the venue.
Says Justice Verma: ‘She tried to evade this question by saying that she was sleeping throughout the way even though the road was bumpy and, therefore, she did not even know the route which her taxi took. There were certain suggestions made to her which relate to matters outside the scope of this inquiry’.
The Verma commission did not go deep into the alleged role of Latha Priyakumar and did not even consider the affidavit of Kumudavalli because of its terms of reference.” [Book: Beyond the Tigers, 1998, p.131]
In the following page, Rajeev Sharma had described in a paragraph the lack of action taken by the inquisitors on witness Kumudavalli’s incriminating affidavit. To quote,
“Justice Verma had sent Kumudavalli’s affidavit and other important documents to the MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs], noting that these pertained to matters outside the scope and purview of his inquiry. He had also clearly said in his noting that these papers could have an important bearing on the case and the needful could be done. This was in 1992. But nothing much appeared to have happened in this direction in the last six years. Kumudavalli has neither been questioned by the SIT nor the trial court. She deposed before the Jain commission as late as in July 1996. It is still not known what is the outcome of investigation into Kumudavalli’s disclosures, if any investigation has been conducted, that is.” [ibid, p.132]
It would be too much to expect any proper investigation on Kumudavalli’s disclosures if Kartikeyan, the leader of SIT, had trusted the powers of Procrustean data torturing. A credible proven link between the ‘suspected LTTE operatives’ and the Congress Party bigwigs in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka would be like a fire in the basement of Congress palace. One should not forget that for five years until 1996, the Congress Party was in power in India under the leadership of charisma-less Narasimha Rao, a wily survivor of many a factional battles from the Southern India (also the first time the executive leadership of the Congress Party had fortuitiously landed in his lap, due to Sonia’s refusal to accept the role in 1991) and political compulsion demanded that Kartikeyan take the easy route to ‘quickly solve the murder mystery’ by ignoring the links of Latha Priyakumar and implicate only LTTE and Pirabhakaran (Continued).