India Today - - INSIDE -

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.

(Aroon Purie)


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