Triumph of Truth: The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination ? The Investigation
N Manoharan ·       

Mundaka Upanishad (III-I-6) proclaims Satyam eva jayate meaning ?Truth always triumphs.? But, as much the truth is hidden, as much the task is arduous in establishing it. The book under review is about the pursuit of one such Herculean task, which metaphorically was like chasing a black cat missing in a dark forest on a new moon day! It is an objective account of the investigation of Rajiv Gandhi?s assassination from investigators? point of view. The timing of the book is appropriate: 13 years after the assassination; and the Congress government is back to power at the Centre. With 15 concise chapters, the first part of 10 chapters runs like a fiction on the tracking of killers and the second part of five chapters is on the prosecution. The book dispels many myths that are still going around on one of the sensational assassinations that shook the world. In this regard, it is the single most important contribution made to the existing knowledge on the subject.

Suicide bombing was the means used by the LTTE to achieve the end of eliminating Rajiv Gandhi. The tactics was used within four years of the organisation?s first attempt in 1987 and for the first time in India. The assassination was planned very meticulously; and the execution did not cost the organisation much. A female was used as a suicide bomber for tactical advantage to avoid frisking and unnecessary suspicion. Thus the modus operandi was new to the Indian investigators. Yet, it was identified within few days, thanks to the efficacy of the Special Investigation Team (SIT). The very investigation was risky because it was against a dreaded militant organisation whose members were ?not only willing to kill, but equally to die? for their cause. Hence the task of the chief of the investigation team was far from simple as he had to constantly motivate the members of his team drawn from various organisations and backgrounds. The investigators had to confront several political and bureaucratic hurdles in each and every aspect of the case. For instance, it took quite some time for the SIT to convince the officials of the DoT and MoD to acquire Direction Finders. But it was too late by the time they came in. Yet, the operational aspects of the case were over within six months; the charge sheet was filed within the deadline of one year from the date of first arrest. Overall, there was no lethargy on the part of investigators. Despite various adversities, the thoroughness of the investigation is evident by the fact that not a single new aspect has been added to the case in the past 13 years. The Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA), set-up to look into the conspirational aspect of the assassination, has so far not made any significant contribution to the case.

The implication of the assassination, however, is still being felt in both the domestic and foreign policies of India. At the domestic level, the Congress weakened in the 1990s due to lack of proper leadership. Consequently, the BJP rose to prominence utilizing the available political space. At the external level, the extradition of the LTTE supremo Prahbhakaran?the prime accused in the case?continues to be a factor in the India, Sri Lanka and LTTE triangle.

During the process of investigation, the media, through its wide coverage and inquisitiveness in the case, helped the investigators in the flow of needful and vital information and in keeping the public vigilant. At the same time, there was some negative fallout. For instance, Station 910 in Chennai, kept alive by the assassins to communicate with the LTTE in Sri Lanka, was abruptly wound-up due to hyper media reporting. The media was also indiscriminate in criticizing the SIT even for a slight misstep, which is common in such high profile investigation.

Despite meticulous planning by the LTTE, the killing would have been averted:

  • Had the defective switch of the King Air not rectified by its flight engineer at Vizag from where Rajiv flew to Chennai.

  • Had the killer gang failed to get unsuspecting Latha Kannan?s support to get into the list of persons to be allowed to greet Rajiv in person at the red carpet area of the meeting venue at Sriperumandur.

  • Had the ?cleared? list been maintained very seriously by the party functionaries at the assassination site.

  • Had Rajiv not restrained SI Anusuya from preventing the suicide bomber to garland him.

  • Had there been tight frisking.

  • Had the telephone query at the Indian High Commission in Colombo whether Rajiv was safe just six hours before the assassination been taken seriously.

  • Had Prabhakaran accepted in toto Kasi Anandan?s report of having amicable relations with Rajiv.

Astonishingly, the case brought to light an extensive network of LTTE sympathizers and supporters all over Tamil Nadu that was slowly spreading its tentacles to other parts of India. They were flabbergasting enough to endanger the security and stability of India. Now those dangerous networks have gone, but at the cost of Rajiv Gandhi?s life. The investigation also helped to crack Padmanabha assassination case that was eluding the Tamil Nadu Police for over a year.

In case of a second edition the authors may like to note the following points:

  • The books deserves a better map at page 85;

  • As numerous names that figure in the plot tend to confuse a unfamiliar reader, a glossary of names and their corresponding role in the assassination would be of immense use;

  • There is room for an elaborate Epilogue.

  • A paperback edition and translated versions in some important languages could facilitate more reach.

A must read book for all those who are interested in Indian security, various facets of terrorism, Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, and aspects of investigation and prosecution in general.