Rajiv Gandhi Assassination:
Ex-Police Chief D.R.Karthikeyan’s Version of Truth
by Sachi Sri Kantha
Book Review: Triumph of Truth – The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination – The Investigation, by D.R.Kaarthikeyan and Radhavinod Raju, New Dawn Press Inc, New Delhi, 2004, 261 plus xxv pages.
I have highest regards for the police officers of any nation, as long as they themselves are uncorrupt, unpretentious and abide the laws which they profess to uphold as their duty. Like thousands of folks, I had a policeman in my family. My maternal uncle Puvanendran was a lowly police constable in the Sri Lanka of 1950s, and my childhood memories include being ‘playful handcuffing’ by him. He quit the police force in early 1960s, when he had to learn Sinhalese language for salary increment and other benefits. In early 1960s, another of my uncles [K.T.Nadarajah, a maternal cousin of my mother and an elder sibling of journalist K.T.Rajasingham] lived in the same compound with us at Wellawatte, Colombo. He was serving as a police constable at the Bambalapitiya station. Nada uncle’s pastime during his off-duty hours was settling with a bottle of arrack and a capella singing of poet Kannadasan’s Tamil movie songs. Both uncles Puvanendran and Nadarajah are not among the living now.
Tamil movies produced in Madras usually portray policemen as two-dimensional caricatures or as foil for Chaplinisque comedy. But the 1962 tear-jerker movie Policekaran Magal, starring S.V.Sahasranamam, R.Muthuraman, R.Vijayakumari and comedian J.P.Chandrababu was an exception. My early memories of how an Indian policeman of contemporary era struggles hard in his job was from veteran actor Sahasranamam’s role as a police constable. I provide these snippets from my Sri Lankan days as introduction to assert that I hate to be mean-spirited to any worthy effort of an Indian police officer. Thus, I’ll assess the book authored by Devarayapuram Ramasamy (D.R.) Kaarthikeyan on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination with utmost sincerity based on the material provided by the author in his text.
Kaarthikeyan is a Tamil, and he served as the Chief of Special Investigation Team (SIT), established to un-knot the mystery behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, which took place in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, on May 21, 1991. Altogether, as listed in the Appendix D of the book, the SIT team consisted of 71 police officers, including the author; there were 4 Deputy Inspectors General of Police, 8 Superintendents of Police of CBI, 14 Deputy Superintendents of Police and 44 Inspectors of Police.
Already, Rajeev Sharma (a journalist; Beyond the Tigers – Tracking Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Kaveri Books, New Delhi, 1998).) and Subramanian Swamy (a politician, who was a Cabinet Minister when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated; The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi – Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries, Konark Publishers, Delhi, 2000)) have presented their versions of ‘truth’. In comparison to Rajeev Sharma and Subramanian Swamy, because of his lead role as the Chief of SIT, Kaarthikeyan would have been privy to much (as of now) unclassified information on the 1991 Sriperumbudur tragedy; thus I had greater expectations of being educated by this book. Sadly, this book was a disappointment. Like a professional strip-tease artist, Kaarthikeyan whets the curiosity of his audience in the cover blurb, but comes up short on in-depth revelations. What is revealed by him in 220 pages of main text - and 5 years after the Superme Court’s Appeal verdict - is nothing new. But, I learnt from the book, what type of a person Kaarthikeyan is, though I have not met him even once.
My assembled profile of Kaarthikeyan, the senior author of the book, can be presented as seven findings.
Finding 1: Kaarthikeyan is a gung-ho police chief who wouldn’t wilt when the Destiny stares at him.
The author states his credo in his Preface: "I believe in destiny. When the time comes, no one can keep you on this planet; until that time comes, no one can take you away. I contended that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed in her official residence by her own security guards; everyone born on this planet has to die, and by undertaking such a dangerous task, I have only added one more mode of dying." [p.x] This was Kaarthikeyan’s answer to his wellwishers who were worried that the task he had undertaken to unravel Rajiv assassination was "too dangerous an assignment", since "the group responsible for the assassination was identified as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)."
Finding 2: Kaarthikeyan is nothing but a chicken-little when the Destiny stares at him.
Kaarthikeyan has informed the readers on how the ‘warrant’ on the LTTE leader was delivered in a chicken-little fashion. To quote, "Towards the end of January 1992, we decided to formally cite Prabhakaran and Pottu Omman as accused in the case and took steps, as per the Indian Criminal Procedure Code, to declare them as proclaimed offenders. The Sri Lankan government helped us in publishing the proclamation warrants in Sri Lankan newspapers. But due to the conditions in the north-east of Sri Lanka, the government expressed its inability to have the warrants served at the place of residence of the offenders" [p.150].
What happened to the gung-ho spirit of Kaarthikeyan who never feared for his life? Why he couldn’t travel to Prabhakaran’s land to deliver the warrant directly to his nemesis in 1992 – like a real man? Why he had to depend on the Sri Lankan government ‘publishing the proclamation warrants in Sri Lankan newspapers’. Was this the correct step of a macho man? Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman were not even Indian citizens, and to issue proclamation warrants to them for a court trial in India via notices in Sri Lankan newspapers and tag them as ‘proclaimed offenders’ is long on publicity stunt but short on due process of law.
Finding 3: Kaarthikeyan was a total ignoramus about Sri Lankan Tamil affairs, until June 1989.
To the request made by the then Cabinet Secretary T.N.Seshan, asking him to visit Sri Lanka, Kaarthikeyan confesses sheepishly: "I said, ‘I have never been to Sri Lanka. To be honest, I have not even read much about Sri Lanka. I have not even been following closely the happenings in Sri Lanka." [p.187] This was in mid 1989.
Finding 4: One of Kaarthikeyan’s favorite English words is ‘interrogation’ and its exaggerated or euphemistic variants. Between pages 42 and 114, I counted this nasty word being used at least 32 times - specifically on Sri Lankan Tamils living in Tamil Nadu and low-brow Tamils of India. These deserve verbatim citations.
"While this was happening, the local police arrested a smuggler hailing from Thiruthuraipoondi, a coastal village, based on information from Shankar’s interrogation. During interrogation by the SIT’s tracking team, the smuggler identified the kurta pyjama clad man as an LTTE cadre called Sivarasan" [p.42]
" He [one of the investigators, that is] had seen this girl at Bhagyanathan’s house and had wanted to interrogate her. But one had to collect sufficient material before embarking on interrogation." [p.43]
"Her [Nalini] brother Bhagyanathan had been picked up for interrogation by the SIT on the basis of the Haribabu documents." [p.43]
"We now had sufficient material to confront Bhagyanathan. When we took him to his house, he made a vain attempt to run away, but was prevented." [p.43]
"Bhagyanathan’s interrogation disclosed his links with the LTTE." [p.44]
"Interrogation of Arivu, Payas and Jayakumar brought in further leads." [p.53]
"After his [Ramanan] arrival, Nixon left for Jaffna. This confirmed what we had already learned from the interrogation of Bhagyanathan." [p.60]
"From the interrogation of Robert Payas we got an address in Madipakkam that used to be frequented by Sivarasan." [p.61]
"Interrogation of these suspects [Vijayanandan and Vanan] and comparison of notes helped us to establish that Ruso, Vijayanandan and the one-legged Suresh Kumar alias Sivaroopan were part of Sivarasan’s team that landed at Kodiakkarai on May 1. Interrogation of suspects and the accused brought to light the existence of an extensive network of LTTE supporters and sympathisers in Tamil Nadu." [p.61]
"The accused had to be interrogated, the interrogation reports analysed and inputs given for further investigation." [p.62]
"A large number of Sri Lankan Tamils had been located and picked up for interrogation on the basis of their links with Sivarasan." [p.65]
"On the basis of the contact number provided to Sivaroopan, Thambi Anna was also picked up for interrogation." [p.65]
"Meanwhile, using the Foreigners’ Act, several Sri Lankan suspects were detained as they did not possess valid documents to be in India. They were detained and confined in a secure place, to be available for verification and interrogation." [p.65]
"Interrogation of some of the accused revealed that Sivarasan and Subha, like all LTTE activists, were carrying cyanide capsules tied on a string around their necks." [p.66]
"Vanan disclosed that he was dropped at his niece’s house in Selaiyur, a Chennai suburb. The niece and her husband were Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. We picked them up for interrogation." [p.67]
"His [Bhaskaran] interrogation quickly led us to another hideout set up by Sivarasan in the Chennai suburb of Eveready Colony at Kodungaiyur, not very far from Jayakumar’s house." [p.70]
"After sustained interrogation, Vijayan disclosed that on Sivarasan’s instructions, a pit had been dug in their kitchen, and many items belonging to Sivarasan were concealed in it." [p.72]
"For weeks Jayakumar had concealed this information from the investigators despite sustained and intense interrogation – and to think that he was not an LTTE cadre, but only a helper!" [p.73]
"Interrogation of Raja established that he was indeed Suthenthiraraja, Sivarasan’s assistant." [p.74]
"On sustained interrogation, Shanmugham gave us two good pieces of information – one, that the LTTE had concealed a large quantity of explosives, petrol and diesel and some wireless sets in the Kodiakkarai jungles. He knew the actual spots where these had been concealed in deep pits. The second information he probably coughed up because the officer who was interrogating him had got it from Murugan and probed Shanmugham about it." [p.81]
"As no further information about arms or gold biscuits came from Shanmugham, the senior officer who interrogated Shanmugham, asked his subordinates to handcuff him and keep him in the local police station." [p.82]
"During a traffic check on July 27, a policeman stopped two men on a motorcycle in Gounderpalayam and took them for interrogation. The men were Vicky and Raghu, both Sri Lankan Tamils and LTTE cadres…" [p.90]
"Ranganath’s interrogation resulted in identifying and seizing the blue (now white) Fiat car or Tiruchy Santhan." [p.106]
"Using a lawyer, Dhanasekaran filed a petition in the High Court of Chennai requesting that he be interrogated only in the presence of his lawyer." [p.112]
"The smuggler was then taken to the RPF station. His interrogation did not help." [p.114]
Kaarthikeyan’s professional zeal in interrogating Sri Lankan Tamils and low brow Tamils of India borders on pathological excess. For balance, I wonder whether he showed the same zeal in ‘interrogating’ Congress Party bigwigs who were in Rajiv’s vicinity on that fateful night of May 21, 1991? A select list include, Maragatham Chandrasekhar and her daughter Latha Priyakumar, K.Moopanar, Vaazhapadi Ramamurthy and Jayanthi Natarajan. Understandably, Kaarthikeyan is mum on his ‘interrogations’ of these bigwigs. Why? With such a cluster of bigwigs attending that function, it stretches credibility that only 16 photographs - ten photographs of amateur Haribabu and ‘six others taken by a photographer who had accompanied Shankar Ganesh’s music troupe were the only ones to be taken before the assassination’ [p.26].
The author also informs about the peculiar predicaments to the two videos taken on the event site. "The two videos taken at the Sriperumbudur meeting site – one arranged by the local organisers and the other by the TNCC(I) – had failed to capture the explosion. Whether this was due to design or accident or tampering (as was widely alleged), or whether it was simply a coincidence for which there could be a rational explanation, had to be examined in depth." [p.121] Accident is plausible, but chances of both (not one) videocameras - manned by two different cameramen - failing to capture the blast seem a bit unbelievable, isn’t it? Few sentences later, Kaarthikeyan resolves the puzzle as follows: "The video film of the local organisers had developed a lot of disturbance towards the end, because of poor quality of film. We were convinced that no one had tampered with it, especially after the videos were examined by technical experts in Chennai. But to set aside all doubts, the video cassette was sent to the FBI laboratory and their tests confirmed our own findings that there was no tampering." Well, what happened to the video of TNCC(I)? Kaarthikeyan is silent on the fate of videocassette arranged by the TNCC(I).
Finding 5: Kaarthikeyan is a keeper of many Indian ‘national security’ secrets and is not a ham to reveal them to the public in his own words.
It appears to me that Kaarthikeyan is scrupulously aversive to even mention the Indian spy agency. The only reference in the book to RAW, is also not directly from the author; it appears as a quotation from a vapid source - none other than The Broken Palmyra book of Rajan Hoole and colleagues. For reasons of convenience, Kaarthikeyan had meekily copied the following sentence: "All of them [referring to the Eelam Tamil militant groups] received succor from India and were monitored by the Indian intelligence organisation RAW (Research and Analysis Wing.)." Isn’t it clever? only monitored by the RAW? This is akin to prostitutes claiming that they were in bed with their customers only to check whether their contacts are shaved or not. Kaarthikeyan is either joking or needs his brain scanned for amnesia causing lesions!
Kaarthikeyan also provides the statistic that 288 prosecution witnesses (PWs) gave evidence, in the assassination trial which commenced on 19 January 1994. Of the 288 witnesses, he provides the names of only a couple. The first PW was Madhuram, the police inspector in charge of the Sriperumbudur police station. Then, excluding the name of K.Ragothaman [chief investigating officer of SIT], Kaarthikeyan is mum on the identity of the 286 individuals who served as PWs. Rather he provides a blanket sentence, "We produced 287 more witnesses – there was a governor of state, an ambassador of India, a senior army officer, political leaders, police scientists, senior journalists, doctors, police officers and large number of commoners from Sri Lanka and India – who tendered evidence in the Designated Court." What was his motive in hiding the identities of these PWs? After intensively reading the Supreme Court verdicts of Wadhwa, Thomas and Qadri, I had compiled the names of 144 PWs who receive citation in the judgements. [vide, Pirabhakaran Phenomenon series, part 26, in the sangam website] Here is a sample; music director Shankar Ganesh was PW 18; Maragatham Chandrasekhar was PW 29; L.D.N.J.Wijesinghe, Senior Superintendent of Police, Sri Lanka & Interpreter of LTTE wireless transmissions was PW 67; Dr.Cecelia Cyril (who according to Kaarthikeyan conducted the postmortem on Rajiv Gandhi’s corpse) was PW 121; Dr.Amrit Patnaik, who conducted the postmortem on the remains of assassin Dhanu, was PW 147; P.G.Abeykoon Bandara, Deputy Controller, Dept.of Immigrations and Emigration, Sri Lanka, was PW 185; Brigadier Vivek Sapatnekar, IPKF Operations, Sri Lanka was PW 186; Kasi Anandhan, member of LTTE Central Committee was PW 242; Vazhapadi K.Ramamurthi, President of Tamil Nadu Congress Committee & later Thamilzhaga Rajiv Congress was PW 258; Dr.P.Chandrasekaran, Director of Tamil Nadu Forensic Science Laboratory, was PW 280; and Chief Investigating Officer of SIT, K.Raghothaman was PW 288.
Finding 6: Kaarthikeyan is an afficinado of deception.
May be to hide his disappointment on the criticism delivered by the three Supreme Court Justices, Kaarthikeyan had tactically blacked out the details. I cite a few specific stinging comments made by Justice Wadhwa [who delivered the lengthiest judgement] in his verdict on the dubious validity of wireless-radio intercepts, on which the prosecution built up its case against LTTE leader Pirabhakaran and LTTE’s Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman. To quote Justice Wadhwa,
(1) "Suspicion however strong does not take the place of proof. Wireless messages are transmitted and received in coded language. It is nobody’s case that Robert Payas (Accused 9) knew the nature or the contents of the messages. It must not be lost sight of that LTTE had various activities and all LTTE men were not necessarily involved in achieving the object of conspiracy. Evidence shows that other LTTE activists who had come to India were also engaged in arranging houses for various purposes like housing the injured LTTE cadre, storing of medicines, etc."
(2) "It appears to us that prosecution is looking at every circumstance with the proverbial jaundiced eye."
(3) "Prosecution also does not tell us the contents of the code sheets and how these were used by Murugan (Accused 3). Charge under Section 6(1A) of Indian Wireless and Telegraphy Act, must, therefore, fail."
(4) "When the prosecution during the course of the trial, which lasted over a number of years, had taken the stand that killing of Rajiv Gandhi was a terrorist act, it cannot now turn about and say that killing itself was not a terrorist act but was committed to achieve the object of conspiracy which was to overawe the Government. As a matter of fact in the statement of Kasi Anandhan (PW-242), who was a member of the Central Committee of LTTE, it has come on record that he met Rajiv Gandhi in March 1991 when Rajiv Gandhi supported the stand of LTTE and had admitted that it was his mistake in sending IPKF to Sri Lanka and wanted LTTE to go ahead with its agitation. That being the evidence brought on record by the prosecution there is no question of it now contending that there was conspiracy to overawe the Government. Its stand throughout has been that it was the personal motive of Prabhakaran and others to commit terrorist act by killing Rajiv Gandhi. Under Section 3(1) of TADA overawing the Government cannot be the consequence but it has to be the primary object. There is nothing on record to show that the intention to kill Rajiv Gandhi was to overawe the Government…"
Finding 7: Kaarthikeyan is a self-serving discriminator, and even discriminates Rajiv Gandhi [when it comes to death].
Kaarthikeyan, repeats in page 189 of the text what he had presented in his preface about his belief in destiny. "I have to discharge my duty. I never fear for my life. I believe in destiny. Till my time comes, nobody can kill me and when the time comes, nobody can save me. So, why bother about something which is certainly going to happen one day. By worrying about it you will have constant fear of death."
Great. What Kaarthikeyan professes is a credo of life, with a religious frame of reference; and he is entitled to it. Millions of Hindus have lived their lives for thousands of years on this noble credo. According to this credo implied and/or expressed, the major controls are divine and not subject to human effort, planning and/or volition. If this be the case, why the untimely death of Rajiv Gandhi should be treated differently? What is good for Kaarthikeyan should be fine for Rajiv Gandhi as well, and he should not discriminate the former prime minister of India. Even Rajiv had premonitions of a violent death for him before he ascended to prime-ministership in 1984, and his wife Sonia has recorded it in her coffee table book, Rajiv (1992, p.9). Couldn’t it be taken that Rajiv reaped what he politically sowed – not only in Sri Lanka, but also in Punjab, Kashmir and other troubled states, including Tamil Nadu? Remember, few months before Rajiv’s death, the then Prime Minister Chandrasekhar – acting on the indulgence of Congress Party which precariously sustained his prime-minister rank – sneakily imposed Presidential rule in Tamil Nadu, by sacking the DMK government.
For sure, Kaarthikeyan would be familiar with the old adage, Thinai Vithaithavan Thinai Arupaan; Vinai Vithaithavan Vinai Arupaan [One who sows millet, reaps millet; one who sows misery, reaps misery]. The same message appears in other Tamil poetic works as well. An example is Saint Pattinattar’s admonition ‘Than Vinai Thannai Chudum; Ootappam Veedai Chudum’ [literal translation: One will be burnt by his fate; and the cursed Appam will burn the House.]. By trying to embellish Rajiv’s premature death at the hand of a woman assassin whom he identifies as Thanu – an LTTE cadre - with legal gibberish and national security concerns, Kaarthikeyan is not being true to his own credo of life. In acknowledging the concern of his 84 year old mother, who wanted her son [Kaarthikeyan] " to give up this ardous and risky assignment" of solving the mystery of Rajiv’s assassination, Kaarthikeyan has also revealed tangentially that his aged mother had comprehended the Hindu concepts of destiny and death, better than him.
In sum, Kaarthikeyan – for reasons well known to him - had failed to serve the full course of ‘truth’ in his book. Deliberate omissions [especially the activities relating to the infamous Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in Eelam soil between 1987 and May 1991, which was one crucial precipitating factor in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination] and deceptions are replete in the book. Unwillingness of Kaarthikeyan to reveal the larger context of the Supreme Court (Apex Court) verdicts pertaining to the Rajiv Gandhi assassination trial, – especially in the 21st century, when complete details have been posted by the CBI for cross checking by analysts – is an academic crime, I would say. These omissions and deceptions amply proves that Kaarthikeyan’s version of ‘truth’ is deformed by design, straining credibility. Other than a miniscule chunk in the penultimate page of the text (p.212), the findings and verdicts delivered by Justice D.P.Wadhwa, Justice K.T.Thomas and Justice S.S.M.Qadri have been completely blacked out by Kaarthikeyan. Those who are interested in finding what these three Justices observed on the Rajiv Gandhi trial, can refer to my Pirabhakaran Phenomenon series [parts 28, 29 and 30, posted in the sangam website]. Kaarthikeyan’s note in the preface that, "To condense all the material into a book of about 250 pages was unlikely to be an easy task." is nothing but a convenient cop-out [No pun intended].
Posted August 2, 2004