Gandhi’s murder: Widespread fallout
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi reverberated beyond the national borders of India. Brutal deaths in the Nehru family were becoming all too regular. Sanjay Gandhi had died in a plane crash, Rajiv’s mother Indira Gandhi had been gunned down. And now it was the turn of Rajiv Gandhi. The untimely death was a tragedy, but so, too, was the manner in which the murder inquiry was conducted.
There was an attempt, right from the beginning, to hide something. It is still perceived that D R Karthikeyan was chosen to hide and shield the real perpetrators involved in organizing and arranging the gruesome murder, rather than to bring to book the real culprits.
At the time of the murder, Karthikeyan was the head of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh State. After the murder, P V Narasimha Rao, from Andhra Pradesh, succeeded Rajiv Gandhi. He was on the verge of retiring from politics at that time, but it was said that he was brought to the forefront by the god-man, Chandraswami.
Earlier, in March 1991, Rao flew to the Texas Heart Institute, in the US, to undergo bypass surgery. When he returned to India, he was getting ready to retire. He had packed his bags at 9, Motilal Nehru Marg, but suddenly Rajiv Gandhi died and he was catapulted into the country’s highest seat. Within weeks, his skin cleared, his cheeks glowed and his gait straightened. The man began to look younger. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Narasimha Rao was chosen to lead the Congress party, and when Congress won a plurality in parliament, later that year, Narasimha Rao became prime minister.
Son of P Ranga Rao, P V Narasimha Rao (Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao) was born on June 28, 1921 at Karimnagar. He studied in Osmania University, Hyderabad, Bombay University and Nagpur University. A widower, P V Narasimha Rao is the father of three sons and five daughters. A man of many interests, he likes music, cinema and theater, but his special interest lies in Indian philosophy and culture, writing fiction and political commentary, learning languages, writing poems in Telugu and Hindi and keeping abreast of literature in general.
Being an agriculturist and an advocate, he joined politics and held some important portfolios. He served as a minister (1962-71) and chief minister (1971-73) in the Andhra Pradesh state government, before his election to the Indian parliament in 1972. A member of the Indira Congress party, he held (1980-89) several cabinet posts under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, including minister of home affairs and minister of external affairs (1980-84).
During Narasimha Rao’s tenure of office as Prime Minister, Karthikeyan investigated the murder case and was given a free hand on condition that, he took care of what was expected of him to take care of. According to Rohan Gunaratna, “In Sri Lanka, the National Intelligence Bureau under Zerny Wijesuriya, the Criminal Investigation Department under M D A Rajapakse, the Directorate of the Military Intelligence under Brigadier Lionel Balagalle, assisted the Special Investigative Team (SIT) of the Indian Government, to make the major breakthrough in the Gandhi assassination. Subsequently, the SIT CBI team was able to apprehend several LTTE cadres associated with the assassination in Madras, including Mirsudar [in Tamil, this means the hereditary landed proprietor] N Shanmugam alias Jeyaraj, an Indian Tamil residing in Vedaranyam, who buried 121 cases of high explosives, wireless communication equipment and petrol cans on behalf of the LTTE. P Ravichandran alias Ravi alias Pragasam, an Indian Tamil, who received Indian Rs 1 million from Pottu Amman and Sivarasan, while in Jaffna in December 1990, to strengthen the LTTE sponsored Tamil National Retrieval Force (TNRF) comprising of Indian Tamils, trained in Jaffna, left for Sri Lanka soon after the death of Sivarasan. He returned to India with gold biscuits, explosives, arms and ammunition, wireless equipment and cyanide capsules, in September 1991, to build the TNRF. Even though he was arrested in early 1992, the LTTE continues to covertly assist in the strengthening of the TNRF, which they intend to use to carve out a separate Dravida Nadu. Subsequently, India charged Prabhakaran and 40 other Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils with the murder of Rajiv Gandhi.” – Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka – pages 464-465.
Natarajan, the senior Indian advocate, led the defense team for all the accused, except one. He was ably assisted by Sunder Mohan, B Gopikrishnan, S Doraisamy, V Elangovan, N Chandrasekharan, T Ramdass and R Jayaseelan. Meanwhile, Siva Subramanium, assisted by Thanan, appeared for Shanmugavadivelu, the 15th accused.
When the verdict in the court was announced, a somber silence was felt in the residence of S Doraisamy, one of the defense lawyers. There, relatives, friends and some Dravida Kazhagam (DK) members were huddled in groups, discussing the “harshness” of the judgment. “Even in the Nuremberg trial, the death sentence was not given to all the offenders,” said the downcast Doraisamy. “Nowhere in the world has capital punishment been given to all the accused in a criminal case,” he added. According to him, the court had “failed to see that the actual offenders involved in the murder, who are already dead.”
“The relatives of the accused were expectedly bitter,” said Arumai, aunt of Perarivalan, alias Arivu. She further queried, “If all the 26 had conspired, how come there were no leaks at all? We feel this judgment was given only to enhance the prestige of the SIT.” For the investigators, the first breakthrough came with the recovery of photographer Haribabu camera, which lay intact on his body for the entire night of the tragedy, before being retrieved by the investigators the next morning.
Meanwhile, S Doraisamy, the defense lawyer, in one of his interviews with Vijaya Television, in Madras, February 2, 1998, said, “There is no evidence to accuse that they were directly involved. They don’t know anything.
“The members of the family of G Perarivalan [Accused No18 – Indian National] are followers of Periyar [E V Ramasamy Naicker, September 17, 1879- December 24, 1973 – a Tamil social revolutionary and a radical humanist and the founder leader of the Dravida Kazhagam]. I know that family well. After Perarivalan’s arrest, they came, approached and appealed to me to defend him. As I appreciated and respected their love for the Tamil language, I agreed to take up the case. The case was against 13 Indian Tamils and 13 Sri Lankan Tamils. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam did not spend any money at all, for these accused in defending themselves in the court case filed against them. I appeared in the court after August 1994. As for my legal charges, the court authorized the payment of Rs.750 per day, under the legal-aid scheme and paid me for the three years, I appeared in the case.
“Conspiracy, awareness and help to execute are the three basic charges against the accused in this case. The argument of the police was merely based on speculation. When Prabakaran was in Delhi, he told V Gopalaswamy that, through the Indo-Lanka accord, Rajiv Gandhi has stabbed the Tamils in their back. Based on this statement, the case was built around and successfully proceeded speculatively. There was no witness to link anyone directly to the murder.
“It was only a guess that, Sivarasan and Prabakaran were together. After the murder, Sivarasan never even attempted to go back to Sri Lanka. But, Ravichandran [Accused No 16 – Sri Lankan national] one month after the murder went to Sri Lanka and returned to India after staying in Sri Lanka for two months. “The police, who investigated the case, should have come up with the real killers. I am of the opinion that someone else should have arranged Sivarasan for this murder. I think those who arranged the murder through him must have summoned him to Bangalore. This is how I foresee his fateful visit to Bangalore.
“The case is a bundle of contradictions. All the 26 accused are those who strive for their daily survival. They made use of the TADA Act to rope in the accused in this case.”
As Doraisamy stated, the case was purely based on speculation, confession and letter leads. The first letter was one allegedly written by Dhanu to Prabakaran, on May 10, 1991, from LTTE’s Kodungaiyur hide-out. It that letter it was stated that Dhanu thanked Prabakaran for entrusting her with the “important” task. Also, Dhanu gave details of her successful dry-run on V P Singh, in Madras on May 8.
The second piece of evidence is the letter dated September 7 from Gundu Santhan, who was the LTTE’s chief coordinator in India, to Prabakaran. It was intercepted when the Indian navy arrested an LTTE courier, Irumborai. Excerpts:
“My dear elder brother,
I am writing this letter amidst crisis. But we have not lost confidence. The CBI seems to have come to know everything about us, following the arrest of so many of our members. All Pottu Amman’s boys got nabbed and that eventually led to the death of Raghuvaran [Sivarasan]. The arrest of Chinna Santhan helped the CBI to know about who killed Padmanabha.
After seeing so many arrests, I had to distribute cyanide to all our boys. As a result of my instruction/order, 25 of us have died. The situation here is just like what it was in Jaffna during the IPKF operation. Like our people hated to give the Indian soldiers water, the same treatment is being meted out to our activists.
I suggest that we have a smaller team to work here. I have waited several nights, but no boat has come. How do I send goods? After the death of Rajiv, we were promised that boats will come once the election was over. But, no boat came.
Send boats and wireless sets before some more of us get caught. If I get wireless set we can identify the arrival or the departure point. Or, tell Irumborai in detail. The arrest of Vardhan cut off my last link with you. Pottu Amman’s boys do not carry my message to you. The likely arrest of Kolatur Maniyam is worrying me, as that would lead to many other Indians. The CBI cannot catch me. Have faith in me. Yours,
The second letter of Santhan to Prabhakaran, dated September 7, 1991, was rejected as “not admissible in evidence” by Justice D P Wadhwa in his Supreme Court verdict of 1999 [page 189 of Justice Wadhwa’s verdict].
It was alleged that these letters in the case were forged and introduced by the SIT to enhance their points against the accused persons. Furthermore, through these letters, the SIT managed to cover up the deaths of several involved in the case. Also, confessions were extracted from the accused by the police, using third degree methods, but Karthikeyan had time and again denied the use of such measures.
M N Natarajan, the leading defense counsel, said that confessions of the accused could not be taken into consideration. His arguments were:
(1) All these confessions had been retracted by the accused having being taken under coercion and under police influence;
(2) Sufficient time was not given to the accused before recording the confession. They were given only a few hours to reflect if they wanted to make any confession;
(3) Under the provisions of the code, as amended by TADA, the police took full remand of the accused for 60 days and when a day or so before the remand was to expire, the accused were made to give their confessions. There is, thus, every possibility of the confessions being extracted. It cannot also be ruled out that the confessions were obtained by causing physical harm to the accused and playing upon their psychology;
(4) The confessions of Nalini (A-1) and Arivu (A-18) were otherwise inadmissible as mandatory provisions contained in Sections 15 of TADA and Rule 15 (3) of TADA were violated; (5) All the accused were kept together in a building called Maligai [palace in Tamil] situated at Green Pass Road, Madras, which were the headquarters of the CBI. Firstly, remand was taken for one month, but no confessions came to be recorded. Further remand of one month was taken. During this period, Poonamallee sub-jail was converted into a police station. All the accused were transferred there and again kept together under the control of the special investigation team of the CBI. Legal principles required that the accused should have been kept separate and sufficient time should have been given to them for their minds to reflect if they wanted to make a clean breast of the whole thing;
(6) It is settled in law that, a confession of an accused cannot be used for corroboration of the confession made by a co-accused. The rule of prudence so requires; and
(7) All these confessions were post-arrest confessions and confession of one accused cannot be used against the other, even with reference to Section 10 of the Evidence Act. It could not be said that the object of the conspiracy was not accomplished by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and that the conspiracy was still in existence.
The confession made by Athirai, the 8th accused, points to the connection of Mahataya alias Mahendrarajah Gopalaswamy, the deputy leader of the LTTE in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Justice Wadhwa’s observation in page 171 of his verdict about Athirai is of special interest. Justice Wadhwa stated:
“Athirai (A-8), a hard core LTTE militant girl, came to India in the last week of April 1991 in an LTTE boat from Sri Lanka. Athirai (A-8) in her confession said that she got specialized training in the LTTE camps. She was assigned the work of gathering intelligence on the operations and movements of Sri Lankan army and other rival organizations like EPRLF, PLOT, etc. Reports she prepared would be handed over by her to Mahathaya, another LTTE leader.”
Athirai had made her confession on August 29, 1991 (page 46 of the verdict). Here is another “smoking gun” that the then LTTE deputy leader, Mahathaya, was intentionally overlooked by the SIT officials when the charge sheet on Rajiv’s assassination was finalized in May 1992. The reason for overlooking Mahataya is mysterious, and this writer wishes that D R Karthiyean, the SIT chief, would have given an explanation.
Mahattaya’s possible and sole connection in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was propounded by this writer in an article that appeared at first in ‘The Independent,’ an English daily from Bangaladesh, dated September 19, 1998, under the headline “Who Killed Rajiv Gandhi?”
The same article was revised and published in the “Weekend Express,” published from Colombo, dated October 17, 1998, with photographs of this writer with Chandraswami, the god-man, under the caption: Rajiv murder: A wider conspiracy?” The article is given at the end of the chapter as an annex.
Meanwhile, the LTTE had been proscribed since May 1992, in India under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967), as an unlawful association, see notification No SL330 (E) dared May 14, 1992 as published in the Gazette of India Extraordinary Part II – Sec. 3 sub section (ii) dated May 14, 1992. The proscription has been continuously renewed at the end of every two-year period.
According to Gundu Santhan, in the alleged letter written by him to Prabakaran, he stated that as many as 25 LTTE militants had died during the investigation of the assassination case. The occurrence of the deaths was a factual statement, but whether these so-called militants and others either committed suicide to conceal secrets or were silenced by the SIT is still a debatable issue. Among those who allegedly committed suicide were Sivarasan – One-eyed Jack, the standby assassin Subha, Nehru, Gundu Santhan, Suresh, Dixon, Amman, Kirti and Jamila – all accused in the case.
Mirasdar Shanmugham, an LTTE sympathizer, was alleged to have committed suicide by hanging himself.
A majority of the LTTE cadres who died, bit deadly cyanide capsules. Indian newspapers reported that, “The SIT and CBI had to overcome a blind alley every time they encountered a suicide death.” Some of the suicide notes left behind blamed the SIT for relentlessly pursuing them. In an interview that appeared on February 1, 1988 in the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka, D R Karthikeyan, the chief of the SIT, said, “The very stringent sentence awarded to the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case by a Madras court on Wednesday should be a warning to terrorists who want to dismember India and create chaos.” Here are excerpts:
Q: The judge has given the death sentence to all the 26 accused of conspiracy to kill Rajiv Gandhi. What is the significance of this judgment?
A: The judgment shows that, India is not a soft nation, which can be played around with easily. It is a strong warning to terrorists at a time when India is threatened by terrorism. I remember Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “If India wins, all of us win, and if India loses, all of us lose.”
Q: One of the defense counsels said that giving the supreme penalty of death was grossly unfair when those on trial were not the actual killers and when only some of them had indulged in specific, overt acts. What is your reaction?
A: It would be improper for me to comment on the sentence. All I can say is that the judgment flowed from the facts placed before the court. As for the penalty, the Indian penal code makes it very clear that in a case of murder, participating in the conspiracy to murder, is as bad as committing the murder. Moreover, the person these people had conspired to kill was no ordinary man.
Q: The defense counsel says that the prosecution had not established the link between the accused and the crime, and that the link with the LTTE was not established, except through some generalities about the antagonism between the LTTE and Rajiv Gandhi.
A: The court was given voluminous evidence in each case. We would not file a charge sheet if there was no clinching evidence. The links with the crime and with the LTTE were clear in every case.
Q: Can you recall the high points in the investigations?
A: When they were handed over to me on May 26, 1991, it was a blind case. We had no hope of detection. The killer had blown herself up on the spot. No one was caught red handed. It was not like the Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi assassination cases, in which the killers were caught red handed. Even the intelligence agencies said that they had no clue. But I had faith. I knew that faith and hard work would help me out.
Q: What was your approach to the investigations?
A: I took up the case on two conditions; that there would be no political interference and that I would not use third degree methods. Once these were accepted, we set about collecting evidence systematically, guided by the time honored principle that the crime should lead to the criminal and not vice-versa.
Q: What were the low points?
A: You know what sort of problems Delhi created!
Q: The defence even now claims that the link with the LTTE was not established except in a presumptive way. What would be your comment?
A: When I took over the investigations, I was hoping that the LTTE had not done it. While on visits to Sri Lanka I had seen what they could do. But as the investigations proceeded, everything pointed to the LTTE and nobody else. Excerpts from a telephonic interview with S Doraiswamy, a leading defense lawyer in the case.
Q: What is your reaction to the judgment?
A: This is the first time in Indian judicial history that a court has sentenced all accused in a murder case to death. In the absence of any specific, overt act on the part of most of the accused, the judgment was totally erroneous.
Q: What do you think of the investigations?
A: The SIT had not established conspiracy. There was no evidence at all. The prosecution had not presented evidence to connect each of the accused to the crime. There was no evidence to show where the belt bomb was built and how the RDX was procured. The accused were not aware of their involvement till they were arrested! According to the prosecution itself, till the dry run at the public meeting addressed by V P Singh in Madras on May 7, 1991, only three of them knew about the plan to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. These were Sivarasan, who master-minded it, Subha, his accomplice, and Dhanu, the suicide bomber. Dhanu was killed in the blast and Sivarasan and Subha committed suicide while being hounded by the SIT. Nalini, for example, did not know that Rajiv Gandhi was going to be killed, even on the day he was to be killed. According to her confessional statement, even at the election meeting in Sriperumbudur, all that Subha told her was that Dhanu was going to create history that day.
The death sentence for photographer Subha Sundaram was too much, because his only crime was that he had tried to retrieve his camera, which he had lent to Haribabu for covering the Rajiv rally. (According to the prosecution, Haribabu, who was killed in the blast, had been engaged to shoot the assassination for the LTTE’s album).
Q: Was the link with the LTTE established?
A: Here again, the prosecution could not establish it except in a general way, saying that the killing flowed from strained relations between the LTTE and Rajiv Gandhi, after the Indo-Sri Lanka accord and the subsequent IPKF-LTTE war. It is widely held that D R Karthikeyan and the Special Investigating Team had implicated Prabakaran through the Confessions of 2nd and 3rd accused. The prosecution team had presented confessions of 2nd accused Santhan and 3rd accused Murugan, as evidence for implicating Prabakaran as one of the conspirators to the assassination. Regarding the confession of Santhan, Justice Wadhwa, in his verdict observed, “Santhan (A-2) is a Sri Lankan national. He knew Sivarasan as they both belonged to same town in Sri Lanka. According to Santhan (A-2) important decisions like murder of anybody could be taken only by Prabhakaran.” [page 75 of the verdict].
Regarding the confession of Murugan, Justice Wadhwa’s in his verdict announced, “Murugan (A-3) when asked by Sivarasan the reasons for the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, he replied that Kasi Anandhan [prosecution witness 242] had met Rajiv Gandhi at Delhi and was told that the meeting was very cordial and if Rajiv Gandhi came to power he would help the LTTE movement. Prabhakaran showed the letter written by Kasi Anandhan (PW-242) suggesting cordial relations to Pottu Amman and said that people like Kasi Anandhan should be removed from the movement. When Sivarasan met Prabhakaran he told him that ‘We must teach a lesson to Rajiv Gandhi through the girls since the IPKF dishonored women’. From this Murugan (A-3) understood that the decision to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi was taken by Prabhakaran.” [page 75 of the verdict]
Meanwhile, seven years after the killing of EPRLF leader K Padmanabha and 14 others, the court that tried the case delivered the verdict in which, 15 of the 17 accused, including a former DMK minister and a former home secretary of Tamil Nadu were acquitted.
In a judgment delivered on November 8, 1997, the two judges acquitted 15 of the 17 accused on the ground that the prosecution had “not proved beyond any reasonable doubt” the allegations against them. The designated court two judge, Arumuga Perumal Adithan, convicted the other two accused, Chinna Santhan and Anandaraj, for offences under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA.
Among those acquitted were former Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Minister Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan, her husband Jagadeesan, former State Home Secretary R Nagarajan, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader V Gopalsamy’s brother V Ravichandran and advocate D Veerasekaran.
Chinna Santhan was declared guilty under Section 3 (3) of TADA for advising, abetting and facilitating the crime. He was sentenced to six years of rigorous imprisonment and fined Indian Rs 2,000. If he did not pay the fine he has to undergo a further year of imprisonment. Anandaraj was found guilty under Section 3 (4) of TADA for harboring Gundu Santhan, one of the accused in the case. Anandaraj was sentenced to five years and a fine of Indian Rs 1,000 was also imposed, with failure to pay drawing a further six months of imprisonment.
Of the 26 who were listed as accused in the original charge sheet filed by the Tamil Nadu Special Investigation Team (TANSIT), Sivarasan and Gundu Santhan (who were among the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case) were dead. Kiruban escaped from custody. Six of them – Pottu Amman (who is also an accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case), Daniel, David, Dileepan, Ravi and Nagaraja – were declared proclaimed offenders, since they absconded. Since a trial cannot be held in absentia, the remaining 17 faced the trial, which was held at a specially-built court at Poonamallee, about 30 kilometers from Chennai.
The 17 accused were (in the order in which they were listed in the charge sheet): (Accused-1) Chinna Santhan, (A-2) Vicky, (A-3) R Nagarajan, (A-4) Rajan alias Kunjan, (A-5) T V Marudanayagam, (A-6) Jayabalasingham, (A-7) Chandravadana (Jayabalasingham’s wife), (A-8) Vasanthan, (A-9) Anandaraj, (A-10) Sebastian, (A-11) Mahendran, (A-12) Gunaraja, (A-13) Irumborai, (A-14) D Veerasekaran, (A-15) Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan, (A-16) Jagadeesan and (A-17) Ravichandran.
Thirteen leaders of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), including its Secretary-General K Padmanabha, were shot dead in Chennai on June 19, 1990, allegedly by a killer squad of the LTTE. Two local residents were also killed in the attack.
The EPRLF leaders were holding a meeting in a flat at Kodambakkam, when an armed group of LTTE men burst into the room and sprayed them with bullets. The assailants also exploded hand grenades. The murders sent shock waves across Tamil Nadu and caused widespread revulsion against the killers.
The LTTE’s animosity towards the EPRLF arose after the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord on July 29, 1987, with the EPRLF accused of being pro-Indian. The animosity increased after hostilities broke out between the Indian armed forces and the LTTE on October 10, 1987. The IPKF was deployed in the Tamil majority North-Eastern province of Sri Lanka under the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement. When the Sri Lankan Government announced that elections to the North-Eastern Provincial Council would be held on November 1988, the LTTE demanded a boycott of the polls. It warned that anyone taking part would be declared a traitor and punished.
The EPRLF contested the elections and formed a government led by A Varadaraja Perumal. After the Indian army pulled out of Sri Lanka on March 24, 1990, the North-Eastern Provincial Council collapsed and EPRLF leaders fled to India. The killers struck on June 19, 1990, killing Padmanabha and other leaders. During that period the DMK government, led by M Karunanidhi, ruled the state.
The All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government headed by Jayalalitha Jeyaram, which came to power after the dismissal of the DMK government, and after a brief spell of president’s rule, set up TANSIT in December 1991, to probe the murder of the EPRLF leaders. TANSIT filed the charge sheet on August 12, 1992. According to the charge sheet the murders were an act of revenge against EPRLF cadres, whom the LTTE believed had worked against it, with the help of the Indian armed forces, after Varadaraja Perumal became the Chief Minister of the North-Eastern Provincial Council.
The charge sheet said that, the conspiracy was hatched in Jaffna, Tiruchi and Madras. According to TANSIT, Pottu Amman allegedly worked out the plot in Jaffna, in February 1990. On his instructions, Chinna Santhan came to Chennai and joined an engineering technology institute which was near the flat, where the EPRLF leaders lived. The charge sheet further alleged that a squad consisting of Sivarasan, David, Dileepan, Daniel and Ravi, arrived in Tamil Nadu, on June 10, 1990 and that on being informed by Chinna Santhan that Padmanabha and other EPRLF leaders were holding a meeting in the flat, the assailants reached the spot in a car with AK-47 rifles and hand grenades. They shot dead Padmanabha and others. The group is alleged to have fled in a Maruti car driven to Pillaiyar Thidal village in Thanjavur district the next day and escaped in a boat to Jaffna.
In his 271-page judgment, Adithan said that, although 206 witnesses were examined, there was no direct evidence to prove that, the first eight in the list of accused got together either in Jaffna or Tiruchi or in Chennai and made preparations to kill Padmanabha. The judge said, “There is absolutely no evidence on record to show that, A 1 to A 8 had committed the offense of conspiracy [under Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code)”.
The prosecution case against former Home Secretary R Nagarajan was that, he had instructed higher police officers not to apprehend the assailants, so that, they could escape. But the judge said, an Inspector-General of Police and a Deputy Inspector-General of Police, who were examined, did not support the case of the prosecution. The judge said that, there “is absolutely no evidence on record” to show that, Nagarajan was connected with the Padmanabha murder case or that he took part in terrorist activities.
The judge rejected allegations that, Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan, former DMK Minister and her husband Jagadeesan, had harbored Gundu Santhan in their farm house near Erode, in September-October 1991. He also rejected similar charges against Ravichandran and Veerasekaran. The judge said that these four were not liable for offenses under Section 3 (4) of TADA.
About Chinna Santhan, the judge said that, he had “knowingly abetted, advised and facilitated the commissioning of the terrorist act committed by the killer squad”. According to the judge’s order, a four-member killer squad reached the spot of the crime in a car. While two of the killers stood outside the flat, where the EPRLF meeting was on, the other two entered it and opened fire indiscriminately. Chinna Santhan (who had positioned himself near the flat, before the killer squad arrived) left the scene of the crime, along with the assailants, immediately after the incident. The judge said that the witnesses had identified Chinna Santhan. It was clear from evidence that, AK-47 rifles and bombs containing RDX explosive were used by the killers, he said.
The case against Anandaraj was that, he was a staunch follower and sympathizer of the LTTE and that he harbored Gundu Santhan in his house. “It is clear from documentary and oral evidence” that Anandaraj had allowed Gundu Santhan to stay in his house in Tiruchi, the judge said. He was therefore, held guilty under Section 3 (4) of TADA for harboring Gundu Santhan. (Gundu Santhan committed suicide by swallowing cyanide, when the police tried to arrest him in connection with the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.)
The judge said that, the escape of the killer squad was a “slur” on the efficiency of the police department. He said that the Tamil Nadu Government had a moral obligation to compensate the victims of this “ghastly massacre, even though no amount of money can console the kith and kin”. The judge added, “This court appeals to the Government to give at least Rs 2 lakhs, as compensation to the legal heir of each of the victims, who lost their lives.”
Reacting to the judgment, Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan said that, it proved that the Jayalalitha Government had filed “false charges” against her and that, it was a case of political vendetta. She demanded that Jayalalitha quit politics.
Nagarajan said that, his acquittal proved that the charges against him were “false” and “completely politically motivated”. He added that, he had undergone “six years of [mental]) torture”, suffered financial loss and lost four years of service in government.
Meanwhile, the Jain Commission reports drew attention to the similarities in the assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi, on May 21, 1991 and EPRLF leader K Padmanabha a few months earlier, on June 19, 1990, in Chennai. Jain pointed out that, the same set of killers were used by LTTE supremo V Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief Pottu Amman (both convicted in absentia) and that, after killing Padmanabha, they had a free run in Tamil Nadu due to the patronage of the then Tamil Nadu Government under M Karunanidhi.
Interestingly, SIT chief D R Karthikeyan consistently refused the demand that the SIT should also investigate the Padmanabha murder, saying the focus of the Rajiv assassination investigation would be diluted.
Justice Milap Chand Jain’s final findings of the conspiracy to assassinate the former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi had adduced evidence of the god-man Nemi Chand Jain, better known as Chandraswami, as having links with CIA and Mossad, and through them with the LTTE. He was among the 21 “suspects,” whom the SIT had failed to investigate, the Commissioner complained. Justice Jain, who had reportedly devoted a whole section to Chandraswami, seems convinced that, the latter was involved. He quotes intelligence reports and government communications to add weight to his case. The god-man was constantly conspiring to overthrow Rajiv Gandhi, when he was Prime Minister, and had sworn to “kill” him, the report said. But Justice Jain does point out that, there are gaps to be filled and missing links to be found. Hence the need for a fresh probe.
Justice Jain also mentioned of the “close” relations between Rajiv Gandhi’s successor, Narasimha Rao, and Chandraswami, and how, Narasimha Rao, as premier, had told a minister that he should not insist that government show the panel all documents on Chandraswami.
Justice Jain has linked Chandraswami with the infamous and now defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in which arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi, several terrorist groups, and intelligence outfits like the CIA and Mossad had accounts. The money in it was used for terrorist operations and political assassinations. The report is quoted as saying that $4 million of Mr Kashoggi’s money was transferred to the LTTE’s accounts. Justice Jain had said this on the basis of a 130-page document prepared by US Senator John Kiri.
Justice Jain’s interim report created a political storm in India, by bringing down the United Front Government led by I K Gujral in November 1997, when it said that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister at that period of time, M Karunanidhi, and the DMK, the then ruling party in Tamil Nadu, was also part of the conspiracy to kill Rajiv Gandhi.
The Congress party clamored for action against the DMK, which was then part of the Gujral government in New Delhi. Its insistence, led to the fall of the Gujral government and subsequent elections brought a coalition led by the BJP to office.
In the final report, Justice Jain has said only “very few” Tamils in Tamils Nadu had supported the LTTE. But, he said that, the DMK chief, who is also the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M Karunanidhi and his Minister, Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan, should have been questioned. The latter is listed among 21 additional suspects, whom the SIT had failed to investigate.
Among the 21 are top LTTE arms procurer K Pathmanathan, (KP), and top leaders Kittu alias Sathasivan Krishnakumar and Baby Subramaniam. The SIT source said that, over the seven years it functioned, the Jain commission had entertained many such amazing theories and used the confusion thus created, to get its term extended from time to time.
The Bharatya Janata Party government appointed the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) and asking it to probe the roles of five persons, Karunanidhi, Chandraswami, Janata Party president Subramaniam Swamy, former DMK minister Subbulakshmi Jagadeeshan and the LTTE’s arms procurer Kumaran Padmanabhan.
The MDMA would be headed by an additional director of the Central Bureau of Investigation and would have representatives of the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, Military Intelligence, Air Intelligence, Naval Intelligence, Enforcement Directorate, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and other central agencies.
The MDMA’s major task was to find out whether Chandraswami, who had fallen foul of Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s and had an international network including arms dealers, mercenaries, Hollywood stars, Indian politicians and businessmen, had carried out his threat that he would “finish off'” and liquidate Rajiv Gandhi.
Chandraswami is the target of a vocal section of Congress leaders because he had close access to prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao and Chandra Shekhar. The MDMA will have a major hurdle in firmly establishing Chandraswami’s involvement in a conspiracy hatched to eliminate Rajiv. That is because key witness Rajendra Jain, a freelance journalist, who had told the Commission that, he had all the evidence linking Chandraswami to the assassination, was found dead in suspicious circumstances, in an east Delhi house. The police are investigating his murder.
While accepting the conclusion of the SIT headed by D R Karthikeyan that the LTTE had carried out the assassination through its human bomb, the Commission’s final report said, “Taking the entire evidence, material and circumstances brought on record into consideration, a doubt does arise regarding Chandraswami’s complicity and involvement. So the matter requires further probe.”
The commission quotes evidence of former cabinet secretary Zafar Saiffullah who said Chandraswami had links with Mossad and the CIA, and that the government had received intercepts of wireless communication between Israel (where Mossad is based) and Jaffna (where the LTTE was operating till recently) which established Chandraswami’s involvement. But the Vajpayee government denied the existence of such wireless intercepts, contradicting the former cabinet secretary.
But money transactions in Chandraswami’s name and his links with international arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and the now defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) have made the commission point an accusing finger at the god-man.
Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, whom Chandraswami unsuccessfully tried to defeat twice, has a simple solution: he asked Home Minister L K Advani to arrest Chandraswami and question him intensively.
The whole conspiracy will be known, he said, without any time consuming investigation of the people and plot behind the assassination.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet, which debated for a long time on whether to include Karunanidhi among the persons to be investigated by the MDMA, found enough scope in the interim and final reports of Justice Jain. Subsequently, Vajpayee’s government dropped the investigation of the DMK Chief and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, most probably after some sort of secret political understanding. Before concluding the section on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the “beneficiary” factor has to be analyzed.
It was believed that Chandraswami was the biggest beneficiary of Rajiv’s assassination and that the Rao-Chandraswami links were responsible for trying to scuttle the commission. It is accepted that the biggest beneficiary of the assassination was the one who clandestinely arranged the murder and who still remains a mysterious personality.
Though it is claimed that the LTTE might have been involved, they seem to have been the biggest losers. They have been isolated in Tamil Nadu and all over in India and many other countries in the world. The supporters and sympathizers of the LTTE are branded as pariahs in Tamil Nadu – as political and social outcasts, thus loosing the power-base they used to enjoy all the years, before the assassination.
It was also stated in the Jain Commission report that, further proof had come to the commission about the “rear base” and the facilitation being given to the LTTE cadres during the DMK regime. The report states that, this has been further substantiated by reports of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) Madras, which was given to the commission after the submission of the interim report. The reports dealing with the period 1989-1991 traces the movement and arrival of arms on the coasts of Tamil Nadu, as well as give proof of the logistical and medical assistance that was readily given to the LTTE cadres.
The above excerpts drawn from the Jain Commission Reports clearly indicate that, LTTE was using Tamil Nadu, as its “Rear Base,” in its protracted armed conflict with the Government of Sri Lanka. As a result of the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, the LTTE has today lost this base, which remains a serious handicap in its battle.
The murder of Rajiv Gandhi has failed to be of beneficial effect, even to the 100,000 and more Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who were then living in more than 121 special refugees camps, scattered almost all over the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. Also, the refugees who lived in Tamil Nadu without accepting any subsidy from the Indian government, too, have not benefited by the murder.
Then who did benefit? The first beneficiary was Jayalalitha, who went from a vivacious sex-bomb in the cinema world, to the Chief Ministership of Tamil Nadu, at the State Assembly elections, that followed. Jayalalitha was born in Tamil Nadu with a Kannadiga family background. Her mother and aunty, were famous cabaret dancers in the Tamil cine world and both danced to fame, baring partially their voluptuous bodies to satiate their craze-filled fans in Tamil and in the other South Indian language films. Jaylalitha followed her mother’s footsteps and was a model, dancer, actresses, a chubby sex-bomb; before entering the political arena of Tamil Nadu.
Earlier, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) was founded by the matinee idol M G Ramachandran, the popular cinema actor in South India, around 1972. After breaking away from the DMK, Ramachandran, popularly called MGR, started a new political outfit to challenge the DMK President, M Karunanidhi. He called his party Anna DMK. The parting of MGR from DMK had a serious impact on the ruling DMK.
Ramachandran, a calculating personality, he chose his characters carefully in films, always depicting himself as a hero, the friend of the poor and the down-trodden.
MGR gradually dominated Tamil Nadu politics and arranged his party in an organized manner. He and M Kalyanasundaram of the Indian Communist Party, made allegations against the DMK, of commission and omission by the DMK government (then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was behind them). Subsequently, the DMK Government was dismissed on the grounds of corruption and a Commission of Enquiry (Sarkaria Commission) constituted to look into the charges.
MGR’s active participation in politics, even prevented Cong (O) leader Kamaraj Nadar from coming back to power. After the lifting of the internal emergency, the MGR with the CPI, as an alliance partner, wrested power in Tamil Nadu. The MGR-Indira combination worked out well and bagged all parliament seats, leaving a lone seat to the DMK.
Though MGR was the uncrowned king of the party, he was not able to control it and keep it intact. Groupism in AIADMK was a known story, everywhere with different dimensions. MGR inducted his film heroin, one of his live-in-partners, J Jayalalitha, into his party and made her a Rajya Sabha (Upper House) member and propaganda secretary of the party. He brought her from oblivion to politics by providing her a position in the AIADMK, and he made use of her in the party campaign. MGR was known for his sudden decisions and ideas and also for his penchant for beautiful young cine-actresses.
When Jayalalitha bade farewell to films in the late 1970s, (or rather, was compelled to quit), people in Tamil Nadu thought that it was the end of the vivacious actress and that they had seen the last of their chubby heroine. But, she was back with a ‘bang’ within five years, looking delectable in party-color saris, cooing to babies in villages, listening responsively to petitioners at the party office of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), a shining mascot for the then ageing chief minister M G Ramachandran.
After MGR’s death she was humiliated by members of the departed leader’s family, who saw her as a threat. Even during the official funeral ceremony, Jayalalitha tried to climb up on the gun-carriage, which carried the coffin. She was immediately forcefully pulled down by other party members. After MGR’s sudden death, the party was divided, with one group under his wife Janaki and the other under Jayalalitha – the live in lover – sinnaveedu, as it is popularly called in Tamil. But the group’s in-fighting resulted in the party’s popular two-leaf symbol being frozen by the Election Commission. The defeat of both factions and DMK’s reemergence in the 1989 state elections made them once again unite. The frozen symbol was restored to the united AIADMK under Jayalalitha’s leadership and the party reemerged victorious, just after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, giving it a massive majority and leaving the DMK with one seat for its party’s president, M Karunanidhi.
Jayalalitha , as an opposition leader in 1989, was tenacious and vitriolic in giving a fight to Muthuvel Karunanidhi and the DMK government. She insulted and assaulted on the floor of the State Assembly, when she crossed to the Treasury bench and tried to grab the official version of the budget speech whilst being read by Karunanidhi, who was also the Minister of Finance. In the melee that ensued, her sari was torn and her hair disheveled. Contumelious Jayalaitha, though disgraced and shaken, pointed to her matted hair and torn clothes and vowed that, she would enter the Tamil Nadu assembly, only if Karunanidhi was ousted from power.
This vow she managed to fulfill after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Therefore, it is openly evident that, Jayalalitha, who spared no opportunity in imposing her feminine power by forcing even ministers of her party to genuflect at her feet, was the one who benefited the most from the death of Gandhi. The other visible beneficiary was Narasimha Rao, who was suddenly made the Prime Minister of India after Rajiv Gandhi’s demise. The last person who benefited most was the god-man Chandraswami. This writer had the chance of being with Chandraswami at a birthday party hosted by Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer in Bangkok, Thailand in 1994.
Rajiv murder: A wider conspiracy?
Articles by K T Rajasingham
Who Killed Rajiv Gandhi? – September 19, 1998, The Independent Bangladesh
Rajiv Murder: A Wider Conspiracy – October 17, 1998, Weekend Express, Sri Lanka.
Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination investigation will possibly take a different turn, when the Indian government sets up a Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) in the near future, under the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI).
L K Advani, the Indian Union Home Minister, tabled the long-waited final report authored by Justice Milap Chand Jain in the Indian parliament, on July 31, 1998, together with the Action Taken Report (ATR). The inquiry report failed to answer numerous important questions: “Who killed Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbdur?” “Who ordered the killing?” “Who and whom were behind it?” These questions loom in everyone’s mind. They need truthful replies. Instead, the commission recommended a further line of investigation.
According to the recommendation, the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency was to conduct further investigations. What was that MDMA supposed to investigate? The very objective of the setting up of the MDMA is ambiguous. Is it to investigate a new conspiracy theory? Or will it look for something different from the one uncovered by the Special Investigative Team and the criminal case filed in the Designated Court 1, in Poonamallee, which after the trial, sentenced all 26 accused to die and also alleged that the killing was done on the orders of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) supremo, V Prabakaran?
A Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India was scheduled to start the hearing of the appeal filed by these accused. The proposed MDMA is to investigate the activities of Chandraswami, alias Nemi Chand Jain, the ageing god-man, Subramaniam Swamy, the maverick leader of the Janata Party, Muthvel Karunanidhi, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, for providing the “rear base” to the LTTE and other accused in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case.
On Chandraswami’s involvement, the report said, “Taking the entire evidence, material and circumstances, brought on record into consideration, a doubt does arise regarding his complicity and involvement.”
So the matter requires a further probe. “The god-man’s relationship with the Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and the Sultan of Brunei imputed the theory that the assassination was master-minded by sinister foreign forces, through a cabal of domestic and international terrorists. When questioned by the commission, substantial material emerged of his criminal antecedents, his role in the Lackhubai Pathak scam and of collaborating with Rajiv Gandhi in their joint endeavor to malign the former Prime Minister V P Singh, through the St Kitts bank paper forgeries.
The Jain Commission further observed that the LTTE’s principal arms producer, Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias “KP”, a cousin of Prabhakaran, held accounts with the Bank Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), a Pakistani international bank, now defunct, as did Adnan Khashoggi, and even the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)!.
Accordingly, the commission concluded that Saudi arms dealer Khashoggi to be a key player in the supply of arms to the LTTE. This might have led the commission to speculate on the LTTE’s connection with Chandraswami, Adnan Khashoggi, the CIA and Mossad. The Jain Commission speculated on the possible CIA-Mossad linkages in the assassination.
Yasser Arafat, of the Palestinian Authority, conveyed to Muchckund Dubey, the former Indian Foreign Secretary in June 1991, “If one was looking for a link, it was the CIA-Mossad-LTTE link.”
The linkage, Arafat pointed out, turned into a serious subject for speculation. It further remarked about the communication monitored by N V Vishan, Joint Director, Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau of Tamil Nadu, who informed his high-ups of a communication from Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) to Prabhakaran, dated July 12, 1990, about what a CIA official had told one of his contacts, “He knew what was required by us and it should be done in such a way that was helpful to both.” Three weeks later, according to the report, Prabhakaran asked KP for surface to air missiles (SAMs) and related firing equipment. Through this report, the commission established a CIA-LTTE linkage, but what is unclear is the (real) connection with the assassination. Also the missing link of the Chandraswami-Premadasa-Mahattaya’s connection, about which the commission failed to establish conclusively.
In the case of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, before concentrating on several outside agencies and terrorists organizations, the Indian government failed to go into several related issues. The important question is “Why did the successive governments that came to power fail to go into the Sri Lankan debacle, a national shame, where 1,555 IPKF personnel were killed, 2,987 injured and expended more than Indian Rs. 1850 crores?
Also, a few more supplementary questions arose: Why does the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) continue to harbor and provide protection at Jaipur, Rajasthan, to Varatharaja Perumal, the former chief minister of North-East Provincial Council and spend millions of Indian rupees on his safety and upkeep? Why does the Indian intelligence agency RAW continue to harbor a Sri Lankan Tamil militant organization in India, patronizing, providing training, weapons and the financial support?
The organization of the LTTE
The Action Taken Report, tabled by the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) government, and the appointment of the MDMA, provided a different perspective to the already accepted theory of blaming the LTTE for the assassination.
While the probe might shift further afield, our analysis still centers on the LTTE. Therefore, it is appropriate to go into the organization of the LTTE and its functional capacity, during two different periods – before and after Rajiv Gandhi’s murder. To come to terms with the situation that prevailed herewith we undertake a full analysis.
Our key player in this probe is Gopalaswamy Mahendrajah, or the one popularly known as Mahattaya, who joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1978, along with Kittu alias Sathasivam Krishnakumar. Prabhakaran inducted Mahattaya as the Vanni region commander and Kittu to command the Jaffna region. From the very beginning, Mahattaya clashed with Kittu. On the night of March 31, 1987, unidentified assailants fired and lobbed a powerful grenade on the motor car carrying Kittu, in Jaffna. Kittu sustained injuries – his right leg was severed while receiving shrapnel wounds.
After the incidents, Major Aruna, alias Selvaswamy Selvakumar of the LTTE, went berserk. He fired his M-16 at the innocent captives from the rival Tamil militant groups at Kandan Karunai prison, which housed nearly 65 prisoners. All but three fell to Aruna’s madness. The LTTE high command did not approve of the carnage. When Aruna died at the battlefront, they decided not to include his name in the martyrs’ list.
But, the LTTE learned in 1994 that the maiming of Kittu was an inside job and the attack was carried out on Mahattaya’s order, by his right hand confidante Visu. Meanwhile, the LTEE had already included Visu’s name in the martyrs’ list after he was gunned down, along with two others, on July 13, 1989, after the assassination of A Amirthalingham, the Secretary General of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), and S Yogeswaran, an ex-member of parliament from Jaffna. To this day, Visu’s name remains on the list.
Prabhakaran appointed Mahattaya as the leader of the Makkal Munnani, (Peoples Front), a political organization of the LTTE. Earlier, in 1988, during the military campaign against the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF), Prabhakaran also appointed him as the deputy leader. During the campaign against the Indian forces, the LTTE withdrew from Jaffna, hid themselves in the sprawling Vanni region, Mahattaya was at Putur-Vannivilankulam, Prabhakaran at Alampil. The leader and the deputy had been unable to meet in person since late 1990s due to the intensity of the India offensive.
Arrest of Mahattaya
On May 3, 1989, LTTE representatives were airlifted from a jungle hide-out in Mullaithievu for talks with Ranasinghe Premadasa, the then Sri Lanka President. Later, Mahattaya took charge of the LTTE team on the orders of its leader. Mahattaya’s stay in Colombo provided the opportunity for RAW operatives to establish contact with him.
S Chandrasekeran, alias Chandran, the additional secretary of the cabinet secretariat and the high-powered officer in charge of the RAW operations in Sri Lanka, met Mahattaya secretly in Colombo.
On the orders of Mahattaya, a hit-squad under Visu’s command arrived in Colombo for clandestine operations. Simultaneously, on the orders of the Tiger supremo, another commando group left Alampil for Colombo, with orders to weed out anti-LTTE elements in Colombo. While the negotiations with the government were on, Mahattaya ordered Visu to execute the LTTE-imposed death sentence of February 1987 on Amrithalingham.
After the murder of Amrithalingham, Pottu Amman, alias Shanmugalingham Sivasankaran, smelt foul play and he began to monitor closely the activities of Mahattaya. The intelligence unit, Aiyyana Group, broke into and monitored the powerful two-way radio communication emerging from Mahattaya’s base. On the information provided by the intelligence unit, Prabhakaran relieved Mahattaya of the leadership of the Makkal Munnani, and from the deputy leadership. Prabhakaran sent him on a special assignment to the Eastern province. After General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and others died in a land mine blast on August 8, 1992, the military balance began to tilt in the LTTE’s favor. Prabhakaran recalled Mahattaya, gave him an inactive position, looking after the refugees’ welfare and injured LTTE cadres. He was also allowed to retain his 75-strong bodyguard unit.
Gradually, events began to work against Mahattaya, Baby Subramaniam, one of the founding leaders of the LTTE, became deputy leader.
Pottu Amman and his group sustained serious injuries, but narrowly escaped death, when an unidentified assailant lobbed a bomb into the vehicle in which they were traveling, near Kopay. The situation worsened when the LTTE became more suspicious of Mahattaya. They found out that he had betrayed Kittu to the Indian and Sri Lankan intelligence agencies, leading to Kittu’s death by suicide, in the Palk Straits, in January, 1993.
Thereafter, the LTTE high command urgently assembled a high-powered hit-squad, including all their leading commanders, namely Sornam, the leader of the elite Tiger commando group, Balraj Charles Anthony’s Regiment, Thamil Selavan alias Dinesh, the Commander of the Jaffna Region. So or Soosai, the commander of the Sea Tigers, and others.
Pottu Amman, the intelligence chief, led the quickly assembled hit-squad. The special squad launched its operation to arrest Mahattaya on March 31, 1993 before dawn and overpowered without resistance the sentries and entered the bases at Kondavil and Kokuvil.
When the squad entered the domestic quarters, Mahattaya was inside the toilet. As he emerged, Sornam told him, “Annan [elder brother] wants you. Come with us,” Unsuspecting, Mahattaya told him, “You better go, I will follow you.” Sornam reiterated, “No, you have to come now. Annan wants you immediately.” Mahattaya, agitated a little, said, “I told you to go, I will come.”
Sensing the mood inside the living room, Pottu Amman, who stood outside the main entrance, entered the room along with the other commanders and said, “No, you must come at once.” When Mahattaya saw Pottu Amman and the others he sensed the seriousness and told his wife without losing his equanimity, “Do not worry, whatever decision Annan takes, it will always be the right one,” and followed them. They took him to an intelligence unit base at Chavakachceri for interrogation.
Unveiling the covert operations
At the time of Mahattaya’s arrest his trusted lieutenant, K D Suresh, was away at Putur-Vannivilankulam to convey Mahattaya’s orders to their accomplice, planted as one of Prabhakaran’s guards.
The regular LTTE cadres arrested Suresh and other fugitives and turned them over to the intelligence unit. A week before the arrest of Mahattaya, the LTTE’s intelligence unit spotted in the Jaffna city a handicapped ex-LTTE cadre, called Engineer, alias Manickavasagam Mahendrajah. One of his legs had been severed during the Jaffna Fort military campaign.
The LTTE discharged him and he went to Chennai by boat to obtain a prosthesis. Pottu Amman ordered his men to watch Engineer’s activities. They arrested him on the third day, while he was returning from Mahattaya’s base at Koandvil, and took him in for questioning.
At the interrogation, it became evident of the ploy to de-stabilize the LTTE. According to Engineer, he was arrested on suspicions in connection with Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination while he was living in Chennai. The RAW agents, who had a full dossier on him, spotted him and initiated confidential discussions. Subsequently, they sent Engineer, via Colombo, with a message for Mahattaya. They instructed Mahattaya to dump Prabhakaran and to be ready to assume the leadership of a North-East autonomous region. After the meeting with Engineer, Mahattaya dispatched Suresh with instructions to arrange the assassination of Prabhakaran.
At the investigation it became clear that Suresh, who arrived at Puthur-Vannivilakulam, could not establish contact with their hit man to convey Mahattaya’s urgent order.
After the arrest of Mahattaya, President Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed on May 1, 1993 by an LTTE suicide bomber. The murder sparked off much speculation about Premadasa’s link to Rajiv Gandhi Gandhi’s assassination conspiracy.
Unfortunately, Premadasa’s link with Mahattaya and Chandraswami did not surface. C Rajadurai, a former Minister and High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Malaysia, was alleged to be the go-between between Premadasa and Chandraswami. But this aspect still remains shrouded in a thick veil of secrecy.
In the meantime, the LTTE cadres in prison at Vellore, Tamil Nadu, staged a dramatic escape. The LTTE dispatched two speed boats to bring back 14 escapees safely, and gave them a rousing heroes’ welcome. Meanwhile, the LTTE office in Jaffna received a letter regarding the jail break scam staged by the RAW, delivered by someone who returned from India, after visiting his son, who was arrested and detained at the Vellore prison.
On receipt of the letter, the intelligence unit alerted the leadership. Within a few days they arrested those 14 masqueraded as heroes. At the inquiry it became clear that RAW operatives regularly visited them and held lengthy discussions and finally they agreed to work for the RAW.
According to RAW’s instructions, the 14 escapees were to free Mahattaya and also arrange the assassination of Prabhakaran. It came to light that one Susilan, a confidante of Mahattaya, was the one who planned to assassinate Prabhakaran. Susilan, after his arrest, admitted that he was instructed to shoot down Prabhakaran.
After a long and protracted investigation, the LTTE court-martialed Mahattaya, condemned him to die, but the execution was delayed. In the later part of 1996 they took him around a few bases in the Vanni area and showed him to their cadres to prove that he was alive. Recently, a journal in Sri Lanka came out with the news that the LTTE had executed Mahattaya and handed over the body to his wife for cremation. This news item needs further confirmation. (But according to Adele Balasingham, in her The Will to Freedom,“Mahathaya [Mahendrarajah] the ill fated deputy leader of the LTTE, who was executed for treason in 1994 …” – page 60)
For all practical purposes, the LTTE high command had decided against publicizing Mahattaya’s investigation report, thus keeping many intriguing issues in suspense. The LTTE categorically denied its involvement in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. One opinion prevailing is that there was no need for the militants to deny the murder if they genuinely plotted and killed Rajiv Gandhi and in case they committed the murder, they would have declared it publicly and provided reasons to justify their killing, or else at least put up posters within Jaffna for local consumption to hail their heroic performance. Normally, the LTTE annually included in its martyrs’ list those heroes who had died in acts of bravery and heroism while accomplishing their missions.
Those accused in Rajiv Gandhi’s murder, but who before being arrested committed suicide, including the human bomb Dhanu, were not included in the martyrs’ list. Why? Furthermore, why have they not disclosed the role Mahattaya played in the murder? Are they shielding anyone, at the cost of their complacency by acquiescing the blame? Are they trying to cover up anyone by keeping the investigating report classified?
The above details show the power struggle within the LTTE during the pre-and post IPKF period. From 1988 to the end of 1991, Mahattaya operated independently in his capacity as the deputy leader and he made use of the Tiger cadres for his operations. Cadres followed the chain of command and unwittingly carried out those orders. A way open to the Indian government was to appoint an international commission with wide terms of reference. Then there may be opportunity for the commission to visit Sri Lanka, meet the LTTE leaders in their own turf and record their statements and thus convincingly probe into the lingering allegations about the LTTE’s connections in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination conspiracy.
One thing to be remembered clearly is that the assassination issue, the Indo-Sri Lanka accord and the IPKF, these three elements are interconnected, and if any one of them is separated then it will be impossible to get to the bottom of the tragic murder.