FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
I still vividly recall the shock and disbelief when I heard the news of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in Delhi on that hot summer day almost 23 years ago. I had met him on the campaign trail 10 days earlier at a roadside chai shop in Bihar. He was full of confidence about the forthcoming elections and seemed to have learnt his lessons from the hard knocks he had received in his turbulent five-year rule. The thought occurred to me then of the twisted ironies of history. In 1984, INDIA TODAY was first to report the covert training of Tamil Tigers in Tamil Nadu under the aegis of the Indian government. The report created a furore and an embarrassed Mrs Indira Gandhi was furious with the magazine. I still recall the picture we carried of these rebels—young men in shorts standing near some rocks in hawai chappals, holding guns like toys. They were a ragtag band, and who would have guessed they would become one of the deadliest guerrilla forces in the world who held out against the Sri Lankan army for 26 long years. Rajiv Gandhi sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force ( IPKF) to protect this force and promote a peaceful settlement but ended up fighting them in a war where 1,200 Indian soldiers lost their lives. The LTTE was finally defeated by the Sri Lankan army in 2009 in a brutal war in which many human rights atrocities were committed against them. Those acts were condemnable but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the LTTE was utterly ruthless in its tactics, often using innocent civilians as human shields. Also, they had no compunction in murdering politicians who they thought were inimical to their cause, as was the case with Rajiv Gandhi.
The surviving conspirators of this plot were caught and sentenced to death in 1998 after a four-year trial. One would have thought it was the closure of a tragic chapter in India’s history. That was not to be. It has now come to haunt us again. The legal battle against his convicted LTTE assassins was thrown wide open on February 18 when the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, said that the death penalty on three of the accused could be commuted to life imprisonment citing the delay in carrying out the sentence. Not to miss an opportunity to make political capital in an election year, our self-serving politicians jumped into the fray. Both the main parties in Tamil Nadu are now batting for the release of all the accused on a technicality, since remission on good behaviour is a state subject.
Our cover story sheds new light on the intricacies of the multi-layered plot to assassinate Rajiv, and reveals startling new facts about how his murder was planned and perpetrated. Through never-before-accessed diaries of the plot’s mastermind Sivarasan who killed himself to evade arrest in Bangalore, Deputy Editor Sandeep Unnithan recreates the events that led to that fateful May night in Sriperumbudur. These pocket-size diaries, recovered by CBI, were found in a three-foot-deep trench in the kitchen floor of an LTTE safe house in Chennai’s Kodungaiyur area. Among its many revelations is the existence of a Plan B to assassinate Rajiv in New Delhi if the Tamil Nadu plot had failed. The team for this back-up attempt had already been trained. Just as suicide bomber Dhanu had been the killer in Sriperumbudur, the Delhi assassin was a woman ironically code-named Sonia.
It shows that LTTE was a vicious force that was taking no chances to kill a former prime minister of India. The pass this sordid tale has reached, I must confess, disgusts me. It is a reflection of what we have become as a society. The reasons for the delays in carrying out the sentences are bureaucratic and political. To compound the issue further, cynical politicians are now pushing for the guilty to walk free. The dastardly act of the killers needs to be punished as was intended. Only then will Rajiv Gandhi and the nation get justice.
OUR JUNE 1991 COVER