The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 33

Sachi Sri Kantha
[02 February 2002]

Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: The Sinhalese Angle

Front Note

A retraction on the puzzling arrest record of Nalini, the 1st accused

Factual accuracy is important in a critical analysis of any worthy document. This is particularly so, when it comes to a document of the caliber of lengthy Supreme Court verdict of Justice D.P.Wadhwa on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination trial. In part 31 of this series, I had commented about the puzzling arrest record of Nalini, the first accused, as contradiction 2 in Justice Wadhwa’s verdict. Now, after re-reading the relevant passages carefully, I realize that my observation was in error and thus I retract the sentences presented in that section, which includes the first paragraph written, under the subsequent section, My opinion on Nalini’s arrest record. I tender my sincere apologies to Justice D.P.Wadhwa and to the readers for my carelessness and oversight. I located my error, while trying to tabulate the number of times the ‘purported’ wireless messages transmitted by Sivarasan was mentioned in the Supreme Court verdict. [Note: But, I’m still puzzled about the correct arrest date of Nalini and Murugan. Kindly read below the observations of ex-CBI director Vijay Karan, in this chapter, regarding the arrest date of Nalini and Murugan, which differs from what is recorded in Justice Wadhwa’s verdict.]

I reiterate that the comment on consequential contradictions of Justice Wadhwa’s verdict relating to the arrest records of Ravi, the 16th accused (Contradiction 1) still stands. 

Now, to Chapter 33.


The Sinhalese angle in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination is conspicuously linked with the conspiracy angle. Quite a few observers in India and elsewhere have commented that for peculiar reasons it has been intentionally ignored by the SIT team led by Mr.Kartikeyan. The facts for questions such as, (1) When was the serious, previous assassination attempt made on Rajiv Gandhi’s life in full glare of public eye? (2) Who was the immediate beneficiary of Rajiv’s death in 1991? (3) Did Rajiv have cordial relationship with the then Sri Lankan political leadership of Premadasa?, pointedly show that the suspicion of critical observers on the manner in which the SIT officials plodded through their Procrustean data-torturing mode have some validity.

Thus, in this chapter I provide observations made by Messers Vijay Karan (the chief of India’s Central Bureau of Intelligence at the time of Rajiv’s assassination), journalist Rajeev Sharma and anti-LTTE analyst Rohan Gunaratna related to the above three questions.

Observations of Rohan Gunaratna

Rohan Gunaratna, in his book Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka, has provided some pointed details on the (1) JVP-linked conspiracy behind the assassination attempt on Rajiv Gandhi, made in Colombo in 1987 and (2) RAW-JVP links.

Failed assassination attempt of July 30, 1987 on Rajiv Gandhi

“As Rajiv Gandhi was about to depart for India, he was invited by the commander of the Navy Ananda Silva to inspect a guard of honour. Gandhi obliged. As he was moving past the men, something totally unexpected happened. Vijithamuni Rohana de Silva, a naval rating from the south, suddenly lifted his rifle and brought it on to the visiting Prime Minister of India. Neither Ananda Silva nor Gandhi’s security men responded fast enough either to push Gandhi away from the sailor, or to immobilize the attacker. [Footnote provided by Gunaratna: Film clip and photographs taken by the media covering the entire Gandhi visit clearly show no reaction to save Gandhi or to counter-attack the sailor.] Fortunately, Rajiv Gandhi’s quick reflexes – something which he had probably sharpened in his days as a pilot – came to his rescue: he ducked almost instantaneously, averting head injury which, in the worst case, could have killed him; he was instead hit and badly bruised around the neck and the shoulders.

The plan within a Navy cell was to kill Rajiv Gandhi. The nineteen year old naval rating was to hit Gandhi on the head and make him fall, and then the two men either side of the first attacker were to strike him with their ceremonial bayonets [Footnote provided by Gunaratna: Based on a confession the naval rating made at the CID headquarters to another detainee.] But for some unknown reason, the other two men refrained from going into action during the assault – if they did, Gandhi could have suffered serious injuries, and could have died. This sinister plan has hitherto been kept a secret. During the court martial that followed, Vijithamuni stated that he thought that the (Rajiv Gandhi-Jayewardene) Peace Accord would make Prabhakaran the leader of the northeast, and he would have to honour Prabhakaran in the same way he was ordered to honour Rajiv Gandhi. However, Vijithamuni did not serve his full sentence – he was released under a general amnesty after Premadasa became the President.” [Book: Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka, 1993, p.193]

Justice Wadhwa in his lengthy Supreme Court verdict had summarized the events relating to Rajiv Gandhi and LTTE, from the year 1987. For instance, he had mentioned about “The Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement to establish peace and normalcy in Sri Lanka” [was] signed on 29.7.1987 by Rajiv Gandhi and J.R.Jayewardene in Colombo. [p.37 of Justice Wadhwa’s verdict.] But he failed to make any mention about what happened to Rajiv Gandhi on the following day in Colombo! I cannot think that this omission was an oversight on Justice Wadhwa’s diligence. This is because, Justice Wadhwa also specifically mentions the incidents relating to LTTE, which followed in September-October 1987:

“On 15.9.1987 one Dileepan of LTTE went on hunger strike…He died fasting on 26.9.1987” [p.38 of Justice Wadhwa’s verdict]

“17 important functionaries of LTTE were captured by Sri Lankan Navy in the first week of October 1987”. [ibid]

“In the night of ¾.10.1987 when IPKF convoy was carrying ration it was attacked by LTTE and 11 Indian soldiers were killed.” [ibid].

Therefore, the selective regurgitation of past events and failure to mention and analyze a serious assassination attempt made on Rajiv Gandhi, by the Sinhalese elements in the Sri Lankan armed forces, in the Supreme Court verdict creates a credibility gap on the erudition of Indian judicial authorities.

RAW-JVP link

“Even though the JVP of the 1980s and the early 1990s is perceived as an anti-India force, RAW kept in close touch with the JVP leadership after Wijeweera’s death [Note by Sri Kantha: which occurred on Nov.13, 1989, during Premadasa’s presidency.] RAW sources… stated that it was a tactical necessity. RAW acknowledged that they had established significant links with the JVP. An Indian diplomat Gurjit Singh who had established close connections with the JVP, told the author [i.e., Gunaratna] that the JVP slogan was ‘We are not against Indians but against India.’ Subsequently over 400 JVP activists, who were being hunted down in Sri Lanka, were given accommodation in state run/assisted camps in South India. Subsequently Somawansa Amarasinghe, the new leader of the JVP received sanctuary in India. These developments also reflected RAW’s dual policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka.” [Book: Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka, 1993, pp.339-340]

If one believes this ménage a trois [Premadasa, JVP and India’s RAW], which prevailed from 1987 to 1993, one can comprehend the assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Premadasa in 1993 as the first one precipitated by Premadasa and the second one as a revenge act masterminded by the RAW team. It cannot be denied that the LTTE also had links with RAW and Premadasa. But one should also note that Pirabhakaran retuned to Eelam in January 1987 to free himself from the tentacles of the RAW. The links between Premadasa and LTTE were of short-term duration [mainly lasting a little more than an year during1989-90 and tactical in nature].

Observations of Rajeev Sharma

On Premadasa’s plausible connections to Rajiv Gandhi assassination, I will present excerpts from the book, Beyond the Tigers (1998), authored by Rajeev Sharma, an Indian journalist. Chapter 10 of this book, entitled ‘The Foreign Hand’, focuses on Premadasa’s role and the Israel’s foreign intelligence agency Mossad’s involvement in South Asian politics. Rajeev Sharma also highlights the path taken by the SIT officials with a statement, “Several important leads were obtained by the SIT, but for some inexplicable reason, these were not pursued to their logical conclusion.” [p.171] Now to two lengthy excerpts from this chapter.

“There are two ways of looking at the Premadasa imbroglio. One, Premadasa took his political hatred towards Rajiv to the macabre conclusion of plotting the Indian leader’s assassination. And once the objective of eliminating Rajiv was achieved, Premadasa himself was bumped off in a typical LTTE style of eliminating the man who knew too much. This theory seems probable with the assertion of J.Ranganath, sentenced to death by the trial court for sheltering Rajiv’s assassins, Sivarasan and Subha. [Note by Sri Kantha: Sharma’s book was released in 1998, when Ranganath’s status was pending before the Supreme Court appeal. In May 1999, the Supreme Court acquitted Ranganath.]

Ranganath, who filed an affidavit before the Jain commission accusing the CBI of holding key facts and shielding several culprits, said in an interview to Outlook (December 8, 1997) that Sivarasan ‘wanted to go abroad directly from Bangalore’. Sivarasan feared that he might be killed if he were to go back to Jaffna, Ranganath told the magazine. He also said Sivarasan,who regarded controversial Tantrik Chandraswami as his ‘godfather’, would arrange safe passage for the one-eyed Jack.

Unfortunately, the Jain Commission did not launch any investigation of its own into these allegations. The Commission did not even take cognizance of Ranganath’s affidavit.

The second possible theory about Premadasa’s role could be that he got Rajiv assassinated through former LTTE cadres, and then blamed the Tigers. With this masterly move, according to this theory, Premadasa killed two birds with one stone: a political adversary in a much bigger neighbouring country was removed from the scene, and the all-important foreign support base (Tamil Nadu) of enemy at home (the LTTE), smashed for years to come. This may be a good enough reason for the LTTE to eliminate Premadasa. Ironically, Premadasa died in a shockingly similar manner as Rajiv.” [Book: Beyond the Tigers, 1998, pp. 181-182]

Ten pages later, in the same chapter, Rajeev Sharma reinforced the shortcomings of SIT’s investigational strategy. To quote,

“All through, the SIT pursued a single lead – the LTTE involvement in Rajiv’s assassination. But was it so? Was LTTE so short-sighted so as to invite India’s wrath and lose its only safe haven outside Sri Lanka – Tamil Nadu – as eventually happened?

The LTTE, on the other hand, would favour a strong leader in New Delhi to provide it much needed international backing and funds. The meeting of LTTE emissaries like Kasi Anandan and London-based sympathizer, Sitambalam, with Rajiv Gandhi, viewed in this context, are not at all surprising. These two men were reportedly negotiating with Rajiv in order to solicit his support for the LTTE. There is no report to suggest that Rajiv was showing the door to the LTTE.

And the investigators took the Rajiv–LTTE parleys as a smokescreen on the part of the Tigers to hide their true intent and lull their target into a false sense of complacency. Who gained, or could have gained, from Rajiv’s murder? Obviously, Sri Lanka government was the direct and the immediate beneficiary. Sri Lanka stood to gain if Rajiv, who was tipped to return to power, were to be removed from the scene. It helped to create chaos in India and kept a giant weak. It also prevented the new prime minister from trusting the LTTE.

Colombo had its own vested interests in the whole affair. If it could be definitely fixed that the LTTE was in some way involved, nobody would stand to benefit more than Colombo as its main adversary, the LTTE, would then lose the sanctuary in Tamil Nadu that kept it alive during the most difficult periods. And precisely this happened.

The fortuitous finding of Hari Babu’s loaded camera from the assassination site with tell-tale photographs would not look all that chancy if one looks at the whole affair from this angle.” [Book: Beyond the Tigers, 1998, pp.191-192]

Observations of Vijay Karan

To Rajeev Sharma’s book, Beyond the Tigers, India’s ex-CBI director Vijay Karan (during whose tenure the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi happened) had written a 7-page Foreword. Some of Karan’s vital observations deserve reproduction, since he was in charge of the immediate inquiry process which followed the assassination. Though he do not confirm the inferences and conjectures made by Rajeev Sharma outrightly, Vijay Karan also had highlighted with under-statements quite a number of gray areas which riddle the assassination. I reproduce two paragraphs from Vijay Karan’s reminiscences.

“On May 30 [1991], I flew to Colombo with S.K.Datta and Kartikeyan, looking for clues, but still not sure that the LTTE had done it or that Sivarasan and Dhanu were LTTE operatives. All the Sri Lankan agencies who could help us opened their doors to us, more than ready to help. But none of the Sri Lankan intelligence or investigative agencies could throw any light on whether the LTTE had actually committed the deed or on the identity of the two persons in the Hari Babu pictures. We were loaded with conjectures and presumptions, but nothing really of tantalizing use, except one clue.

We had been five days in Colombo and everyone was getting restive in Delhi. What’s new, I was repeatedly asked every day. Eventually, I was told to return to Delhi and brief the government on the progress of the investigation. On my last day in Colombo, we got the information, provided by a leader of a Tamil outfit other than the LTTE [Note by Sri Kantha: It would be interesting to guess, who would have been this non-LTTE leader?] that the man in one of Hari Babu’s pictures was one-eyed and that his name was Pakyaraj. It was in fact one of so many leads and conjectures that we did not know what to make of it. Leaving behind Datta and Kartikeyan in Colombo, I flew to Madras late in the evening. The entire SIT was there at the airport to meet me… I was told that the investigation in Madras had shown that the unidentified man of the Hari Babu photographs was a one-eyed LTTE operative called Shivraj Master.” [Book: Beyond the Tigers by Rajeev Sharma, 1998, Foreword]

Vijay Karan also indicated in his foreword, “By June 12 [1991], Nalini, her mother, her brother and her LTTE boyfriend [referring to Murugan] had been arrested. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.” Is this a minor slip of memory for Vijay Karan in 1998? The 1999 Supreme Court verdict of Justice Wadhwa records, Nalini and her husband Murugan were arrested on June 14, 1991. This contradiction in the date of arrests is not insignificant, I believe.

Vijay Karan had also noted cryptically, “When we were in Colombo in the first week of June 1991, we were told in whispers by various persons that Premadasa could be behind it. There is a lot of difference between could be and is. I am not trying to say that there was no larger conspiracy.”

The subtle use of double negatives in the last sentence, coming from the then Director of the CBI who led the Rajiv assassination inquiries has some significance. Unfortunately, Vijay Karan also has hidden his Colombo sources with the phrase ‘whispers by various persons’. Were they Sinhalese? Or were they Tamils? Were they politicians? Or were they law enforcement personnel?

To summarise the Sinhalese angle of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, journalist Rajeev Sharma has presented two theories. One is ‘Premadasa did it in collusion with LTTE’. The other is ‘Premadasa did it and pointed the fingers at LTTE, who in vengeance assassinated Premadasa two years later in the similar fashion.’ Subramanian Swamy, an ardent apologist for Israel and Mossad in India, in his 2000 book on Rajiv Gandhi assassination, presents his angle with a variant of Rajeev Sharma’s first theory: that is, ‘Premadasa and Pirabhakaran jointly did it to eliminate their common adversary.’ But Swamy’s track record on serious matters have as much credibility as Nixon’s on integrity. [Continued]