|June 29, 2002||atimes.com|
SRI LANKA: THE UNTOLD STORY
Chapter 46: Rajiv Gandhi's assassination
By K T Rajasingham
The political scene in India became murkier as the minority government of Prime Minister S Chandrasekhar developed serious misunderstandings with Rajiv Gandhi, the leader of the opposition, and the latter ultimately forced Chandrasekhar to announce the resignation of his four-month-old government on March 6, 1991, from the floor of the Indian parliament.
After Chandrasekhar's resignation, no one came forward to form a coalition government and the President dissolved Parliament and elections for the 10th parliament were announced for June 1991. Chandrasekhar remained as the caretaker Prime Minister.
Earlier, Rajiv Gandhi was informed by the estranged brother of Omprakash Chautala, the Chief Minister of Haryana, that Sampat Singh, the Home Minister of Haryana, had put Rajiv Gandhi under police surveillance. To confirm the allegation, two Haryana police constables were seen sipping tea outside the residence of Rajiv Gandhi, located at 10 Janpath complex in New Delhi.
It had been reported that Rajiv Gandhi by then was already facing threats on his life from Sikh extremists, Muslim fundamentalists and a host of other militant organizations, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Therefore, the Haryana police surveillance issue was treated seriously by the Congress Party and by Rajiv Gandhi. Earlier, the two houses of parliament had debated the Presidential Address, but debate had been kept continuously adjourned, for lack of a quorum, as legislators belonging to the Congress and its allies, boycotted the sessions. This situation posed a serious threat to the Government and it became obvious that it may collapse at any time.
As Rajiv Gandhi refused to meet Chandrasekhar's representatives, or even take telephone calls from the Prime Minister, the premier decided to call it a day.
Chandrasekhar, who was considered a Young Turk - a radical - during the time of Indira Gandhi, was not prepared to come to terms with Rajiv Gandhi, whom he felt had dishonored the Institution of the prime minister, by not accepting telephone calls from Chandrasekhar.
It was not the first time that the Congress Party had betrayed a minority government - earlier, Indira Gandhi had withdrawn support for Charan Singh.
Now, the country was gripped with election fever and it was speculated that the Congress party led by Rajiv Gandhi would come back to power. But there were also people who thought that there would be a hung parliament, hence the power brokers came into play.
Meanwhile, the former EPRLF stalwart and the Northeast Provincial Government's Chief Minister, Varatharajah Perumal, was at the time at Chandheri, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where he had been given refuge and protection. But he managed to break his security cordon and left for New Delhi to meet Rajiv Gandhi. Gandhi was sympathetic towards Perumal and volunteered to give him a bulletproof vest as a goodwill gesture.
It was reported that whenever a Sri Lankan Tamil visited Rajiv Gandhi during this period, he appeared very concerned over the atrocities of the LTTE. Therefore, rumors were rife that, should Congress come back to power, it would assist Sri Lankan Tamils in winning back their political rights, and would take steps to curb the LTTE in Sri Lanka.
According to a report, "Gandhi turned acutely anti-LTTE while out of office. Sri Lankan Tamils who met him during the period say that he became distrustful of the Tigers. One man who submitted a set of 'option papers' on Sri Lanka, [for the Congress to pursue when it returned to power] says Gandhi asked, 'These proposals are fine. But they do not take into account what we [Indian] should do if the LTTE does not cooperate. Knowing them [LTTE], we should have a contingency plan where we can proceed without them if necessary'. When Ranjan Wijeratne was killed in March 1991, Gandhi squarely blamed the LTTE." Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas by M R Narayan Swamy - page 332.
Meanwhile, N Sri Kantha, who represented TELO along with Govindan Karunakaran, a Member of Parliament representing Batticaloa, met Devi Lal, the Indian deputy Prime Minister, Subodh Kant Sahay, Minister of State for Home Affairs and Rajiv Gandhi, in New Delhi, to secure the release of about 300 TELO cadres held in Tamil Nadu. They were all detained at Pudukottai jail and included A Selvam alias Adaikalanathan - the leader of TELO, who succeeded Sri Sabaratnam, after his assassination by the LTTE, and two politburo members - Shanker and Vino. Selvam had been arrested in 1990. The DMK government led by Karunanidhi was responsible for imprisoning more than 1,000 non-LTTE Tamil militants in Tamil Nadu.
As fighting escalated in the Northeast of Sri Lanka, Tamil refugees began to flee across the Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar, to India. At the time there were more than 96,000 refugees in Tamil Nadu, living in 113 refugee camps.
As the Indian elections drew nearer, the Sri Lankan political leadership as well as the LTTE began to closely monitor developments in India. The important issue was, would Rajiv Gandhi stage a come back? And if he came back, would he insist on the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord? Would there be a possibility of re-introducing the Indian armed forces into Sri Lanka?
The Indian leadership felt that President Premadasa had insulted, humiliated and betrayed the Indians in the manner in which he had behaved after succeeding J R Jayewardene.
Dr Subramanian Swamy, who was at that time the Minister of Law and Commerce in the Chandrasekhar Government and the contact of Rajiv Gandhi in that Government, wrote in his book The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries, "In Jaffna, Prabakaran the LTTE supremo was monitoring the goings on in Delhi, for two reasons. The first was he wanted Chandrasekhar's government out because we had dismissed the DMK government in Tamil Nadu and cracked down on the LTTE in the State. He had tried, I was told, to develop contacts with Chandrasekhar just after he had taken office, but these were rebuffed.
"The second was that he hated R G [Rajiv Gandhi] and feared his return to office. Vir Sanghavi, [at present, the editor of the Hindustan Times], who reportedly is compromised by the LTTE [by a honey trap?], had in a report on the election prospects predicted that the Congress would win over 300 seats. No one else had. Others had predicted a hung house. An advance copy of his article to be published in Sunday [a popular weekly from India] was faxed to LTTE. This report worried Prabakaran, and so he authorized two emissaries to go and meet R G, one of them through the good offices of The Hindu editor, Malini Parthsarathy. Surprisingly, R G met the LTTE leader Kasi Anandan, in Delhi on March 5, days before the house was dissolved. I did not know about it and Chandrasekhar, who sometimes discussed intelligence reports with me, said nothing to me about it.
"Maybe even the IB [Intelligence Bureau] did not know then. How they were brought from the Delhi hotel, where the LTTE emissaries were staying, to 10 Janpath [Rajiv Gandhi's residence], without anyone knowing is a mystery even today. But, in that meeting, to R G's credit, he stood firm with Kasi Anandan in not agreeing to an independent Eelam [which at that stage meant a Prabakaran-led Eelam]. He made conciliatory noises, though, about Prabakaran. Prabakaran was, however, not interested in that. His aim was to try to make R G lower his guard. After the Lok Sabah was dissolved, R G met another LTTE supporter: Arjun Sittampalan, a London-based chartered accountant, perhaps without realizing that he was also LTTE. But, more important, R G met in end-March a Delhi-based supposedly anti-LTTE representative called Rajarattinam of the ENDLF. Not realizing that Rajarattinam could convey to LTTE his conversation, even unwittingly, R G was forthright in expressing his opposition to LTTE and Prabakaran. Incidentally, the Jain Commission knew of the first two meetings only. R G had also met a decimated TELO leadership on January 30, 1991, in which Natwar Singh was present. At this moment of writing the book, I do not have the full details of that meeting." - Pages 66-67.
In Sri Lanka, the country was gripped with conflict, neither party emerging victorious. The LTTE rejected an important condition put forward by the Government for the resumption of peace talks, that Prabakaran himself must attend.
Furthermore, according to a report the government received from India, India had successfully cracked down on the LTTE. According to F C Sharma, Inspector General of Police Intelligence attached to Tamil Nadu, in February 1991 about 92 LTTE cadres, mostly ringleaders and 54 local LTTE supporters, had been arrested. Sharma also revealed that 17,000 liters of petrol, 53,000 gelatin sticks, 43,000 detonators, Rs 100,000 in foreign currency and Indian Rs 60,000 had been found. He further added that six communication sets, powerful enough to communicate with the LTTE office in London, and two fax machines had also been found.
The LTTE also faced a deteriorating situation in Tamil Nadu after the dismissal of Karunanidhi's DMK government in January 1991. It was reported that Prabakaran and the LTTE were very worried of Rajiv Gandhi coming back to power.
Gandhi had already launched his election campaign in Tamil Nadu, on April 18, at a joint public meeting of the Indian Congress and its Tamil Nadu coalition partner, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kalagam (AIADMK), in Madras. After this meeting it was tentatively decided that, Gandhi might again visit Tamil Nadu, on May 10-11, for electioneering. Subsequently, it was indicated that he would visit in the third week of May.
While the elections were taking center stage in India, in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha Jayaram, the leader of the AIADMK, who was the coalition leader with the Indian Congress, had made it abundantly clear that, she did not require Rajiv Gandhi to waste time in the State, as she herself would ensure victory in the State.
Even the Tamil Nadu Congress President Vazhapadi Ramamurthy was against Rajiv Gandhi's coming to Tamil Nadu, although for different reasons. The state government, which was under Presidential rule, warned Rajiv Gandhi not to visit Tamil Nadu, as security reports pointed to possible trouble for him. According to Subramanian Swamy, "In fact, from Bubaneswar, in the early morning of May 20, 1991, R G [Rajiv Gandhi] had called one of his close non-political friends in Delhi to say that, he was under pressure from people around him to go to Sriperumbudur, lest it be taken that he was afraid to go, or that Ms Jayalalitha take all the credit for the near certain victory."
But on May 18, it was A J Das, a local Congress Party leader and the chief organizer of the public meeting at Sriperambudur, who first announced Rajiv Gandhi's visit to Tamil Nadu on May 21 to participate in an election rally organized on behalf of Maragatham Chandrasekhar and other Congress candidates contesting in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections. The newspapers of May 19 carried the announcement. Accordingly, Rajiv Gandhi, the president of the Indian Congress party, arrived at Meenambakam airport at Madras from Visakapatnam in Kerala, at 20.30 on May 21, 1991.
At the airport he addressed very briefly the waiting pressmen and by 21.00 hrs he left in a bulletproof Ambassador car by road for Sriperembudur, which was located 48 kilometers southwest of Madras, on the Madras-Bangalore national highway. His motorcade comprised another 14 vehicles, mostly of Congress leaders, journalists and police personnel. En route to Sriperembudhur, where he was to address an election rally in support of the Congress candidate Maragatham Chandrasekhar, a veteran in the party and a senior MP since December 31, 1984, he stopped his motorcade wherever crowds of Congress party workers and sympathizers were lined up and addressed them.
The motorcade arrived at Sriperembudur at about 22.10 and stopped near the Indira Gandhi statute, located at the junction connecting the Tiruvellore-Bangalore and Madras-Bangalore highway, which was just 500 meters from the proposed public meeting site, to garland the statute and pay his respects to his deceased mother.
He then traveled to the venue of the meeting and got out of his car, just 20 meters from a specially constructed stage. The size of the venue was about 300 meters by 200 meters and later it became clear that the organizers had failed to obtain necessary permission, either from the District Collector or from the Superintendent of Police to conduct a rally. It was an open, flat piece of ground.
When Rajiv Gandhi alighted from the front of the car and started waving and responding to the cheering women who had assembled in an enclosure specially constructed for them towards the left side of a pathway leading to the stage. Senior police officials, including R K Raghavan, who later became the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, surrounded Rajiv Gandhi to form a security shield.
R K Raghavan, IGP (Inspector General of Police - Forest cell) was in charge of the election arrangements at Sriperumbudur on May 21 and he was assisted by DIG Chengai Anna Range and SP Chengai-Anna East of the Tamil Nadu police.
The path to the stage was laid with a red carpet and the organizers of the meeting, nearly 20 persons, lined up to offer silk scarves (ponnadai), as a mark of traditional welcome. Furthermore, as per the arrangements, only three persons were to garland Rajiv Gandhi, and those three garlands had already been security checked. No one else was supposed to go near Rajiv Gandhi to garland him. On the eastern side of the path was the public enclosure and it was duly barricaded.
Rajiv Gandhi started walking towards the stage. Two Congress party workers preceded ahead on either side of the carpet, sprinkling flowers from two baskets - these too, had been physically examined by Raghavan. Rajiv Gandhi shook hands with members of the crowd as he walked towards the stage.
When he was about five meters from the stage, he received silk scarves from four persons - one being Latha Kannan, a lady Congress worker, whose daughter Kokila recited a Hindi song in his favor. Suddenly a young bespectacled women, about 25 years old with a sandalwood garland in her hand, popped up in the line to greet Rajiv Gandhi. Some eyewitness had seen this women moving towards Rajiv Gandhi and bending down, genuflecting to pay respects, by touching his feet.
At that very moment, at 10.18, a shuddering loud explosion was heard. Though there was a heavy concentration of policemen and Congress workers around Rajiv Gandhi, immediately after the loud explosion, he was thrown about 1.75 meters to the left, inside the barricade. According to some eyewitness reports, the explosion produced a flash of light about 3 meters high, which lasted for a few seconds, followed by a thick pall of smoke. The blast created a forceful impact, throwing people about, and in all, along with Rajiv Gandhi, 18 persons were killed, including nine policemen, and 33 persons, including 12, policemen were injured.
"The intelligence Bureau later briefed the informal meeting of the CCPA [Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs] about the technology of the assassination based on the inspection of the scene of the blast, discussions with the eye witnesses and experts (including doctors and forensic science experts) study of the photographs, examination material objects recovered from the scene etc. It revealed that: (i) The IED [Improvised Explosive Device] was carried on the body of an unidentified woman wearing a green salawar and mustard colored >I>kameez;>/I> (ii) It was a highly sophisticated and powerful device which had a foolproof triggering mechanism, electric detonator and a well concealed body jacket to house the IED; (iii) Plastic explosive of the RDX variety was used; (iv) Cause of death of Rajiv Gandhi and the woman later identified as Dhanu, who was carrying the IED, was a direct impact from the blast; (v) Small steel balls (or pellets) were used to create an intense impact; (vi) The assassin appeared to have intimate knowledge of the function, its sequence etc; (vii) Highest impact of the blast was borne by the unidentified woman followed by Rajiv Gandhi. It indicates that the epicenter of the blast was closest to the assassin followed by Rajiv Gandhi." - The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries Dr Subramanian Swamy, pages 114-115.
When the explosion occurred, K Ramamuthy, the Tamil Nadu Congress President, was on the stage waiting for the arrival of Gandhi and G K Mooppanar, the Congress Party secretary, was standing some distance away from the stage - both escaped unhurt. But Maragatham Chandrasekhar, who was walking some 3 meters ahead of Gandhi, was injured.
Up to then two Gandhis had been assassinated - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation who was killed by an Indian national in 1948, and Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru and the mother of Rajiv Gandhi, who was shot and killed by her own Sikh bodyguards, in 1984.
According to Subramanian Swamy, who was at that time the Minister of Law and Commerce in the Chandrasekhar government and a maverick politician and also a Tamil Brahmin from Tamil Nadu, wrote in his book, The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries, "The exact point of the blast was on the carpeted pathway at a distance of 5.5 meters from the alighting point and 9.76 meters short of the steps leading to the stage. There was no crater formed on the ground. Two small burn holes approximately 8 x 6 cms each were found on the carpet. Nearly a 5 square meter area of the carpet, around the point of blast, was found soaked in blood with pieces of flesh and bones embedded in it. In addition to the dead bodies which were sent for post mortem examination, a large number of articles, mostly in damaged condition, were recovered from the scene and sent for examination by a forensic science experts. The notable recoveries included:
(i) Pieces of double-layered denim cloth jacket shaped belt with Velcro stripes at the two ends. The belt had compartments all through its length to conceal the explosives. The belt was apparently shaped to fit a female body.
(ii) Pieces of mustard colored kameez and green embroidered salwar intermingled with the body parts of the unidentified woman. Parts of the Velcro belt were also found strewn with these garments.
(iii) Two pieces of wire intricately placed inside Velcro belt.
(iv) A rechargeable AAA size 9 volt UK made battery;
(v) One on-off switch which could have been used for activizing the IED (Improvised Explosive Device);
(vi) Steel pellets;
(vii) Piece of red carpet which was badly soaked with blood, human remains and chemical traces of materials used for causing explosion:
(viii) Part of a frame of spectacles resembling spectacles worn by the unidentified woman.
"Of the 18 persons killed in the blast, the bodies of all, except Dhanu's, was quickly identified and claimed. Parts of her body were flung violently in different directions. While one of her hands was recovered from a distance of 38 meters north to the blast, the other hand was found 26 meters south of the blast. The head was recovered from a place 12 meters west of the blast. Most parts of the torso of the body were found missing and were probably ripped into several unidentified pieces. The face of the woman was, however, miraculously still identifiable and a bore close resemblance to the one waiting to garland Rajiv Gandhi. The other dead bodies, though badly mutilated, were found almost intact within a radius of 4 meters." - pages 115-116.
The most important point worth taking consideration was that the explosive device apparently used by Dhanu did not cause a crater. How was this possible? Those involved in the investigation failed to go into this aspect, which could have led to a completely different conclusion.
The bespectacled woman was identified as Dhanu, alias Anbu, alias Kalaivani (sobriquet), but her real name was Gayatri, the daughter of A Rajaratnam, a former government clerical servant who, along with K Sivananandasundram, another clerk, had been members of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, organized as the Puli Padai (Tigers Army), some time in 1966, to oppose the Sinhalese government. A Rajaratnam left government service and lived in Madras, where he died a virtual pauper in 1975.
Chandrasekhar's government handed over the investigation of the murder to the CBI on May 24 and it constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under D R Karthikeyan, who had earlier been in Sri Lanka during the time of the Indian Peacekeeping Forces. Unfortunately, Chandrasekhar's government failed to disclose whether there were any special reasons for them to appoint Karthikeyan to lead the SIT, who was by that time a sworn enemy of the LTTE.
Meanwhile, nine days after the assassination, on May 31, the Intelligence Bureau reviewed various scenarios and possibilities. According to its review, there had been 13 instances of bomb blasts in Tamil Nadu between 1986 and 1991. It became clear, according to the review, that Sri Lankan militants, including the LTTE and the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army, took recourse to explosives to achieve their ends.
According to the IB's review, Rajiv Gandhi's murder was narrowed down to two possibilities - it was executed either by Sikh militants or the LTTE. But the government found that Sikh involvement in a murder in Tamil Nadu was unlikely, leaving the LTTE as the prime suspect.
"At first, the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) had in the first meeting on the early hours of May 22, 1991, resisted reaching this conclusion, because it was under the impression that the hardcore Kittu in London was their mole in the LTTE. Kittu was even receiving a monthly stipend from RAW funds! Of course, as per LTTE's plan, which was discovered later, Kittu, who had fooled the RAW, was instructed by Prabakaran to deny any hand in the assassination, which Kittu dutifully told the RAW and the RAW in turn told the CCPA."- The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries Dr Subramanian Swamy - page 125.
Karthikeyen's special investigation team had its first breakthrough in the investigation, when they got hold of the camera of one Haribabu, a photographer who had died in the blast. They developed nearly 10 photographs showing Dhanu, alias Gayatri, holding a sandalwood garland in her hand; by Rajiv Gandhi's arrival Dhanu had already moved closer to him; Sivarasan, alias S Packiyanathan, alias Raghuvaran, had lost an eye in combat with the Indian army and who was also called one-eyed Jack, was another Sri Lankan accomplice in kurta and pajama, with a notebook in his hand and a cloth bag on his shoulder to resemble a journalist; the crowd at the venue and then the explosion itself.
Subsequently, there was another breakthrough, when the police halted a Sri Lankan Tamil youth named Shankar, alias Koneswaran, on a motorcycle near Vedaranyam, a town on the coast of Tamil Nadu. Investigations revealed that he was one of a nine-member assassination team that had come to Kadaikkarai, near Vedaranyam, on May 1, 1991. He had in his possession a piece of paper with the telephone numbers of Nalini and B Robert Payas, both were subsequently held in connection with the murder. The SIT became convinced that Shankar was a prime suspect, and from the LTTE.
A day after the murder of Gandhi a forensic expert, Professor P Chandrasekharan, disclosed that the killer was a woman who had acted as a human bomb by wearing a denim belt loaded with RDX - Research Department Explosive, and thousands of 2 mm steel pallets.
Indian newspapers published the images of Sivarasan, Dhanu and others from the photographs of Haribabu. The public began to respond to the police with information, which helped in a great way for the SIT to develop the leads that resulted in arrests.
In the meantime, a commission of inquiry was set up under Justice J S Verma. It was constituted on May 27, 1991. It was largely concerned with security lapses. Justice Verma sent his report to the Home Minister on June 12, 1992, with categorical conclusions under three categories: (I) Findings, (II) Lapses or dereliction of duty and (III) Deficiencies in the security system.
Important conclusions which are directly relevant in the context of this subject include: "In view of the continuing high threat to Rajiv Gandhi even on his ceasing to be the Prime Minister ... the decision of the Central Government on 30.01.1990 to withdraw the SPG [Special Police Guard] cover to Rajiv Gandhi, without provision for a suitable alternative for his proximate security ... and the consequent withdrawal of the SPG cover reducing the level of protection to Rajiv Gandhi without any reduction of the threat to him was contrary to Central Government's own earlier decision as well as his security requirement and was unjustified."
Coming to the failure of the Central Government and its agencies, Justice Verma held the IB responsible for failure to disseminate information on the threat perception regarding Gandhi to the Government of Tamil Nadu.
Also, the commission held that the Tamil Nadu Police Force failed to provide the requisite proximate security and prevent access to the human bomb near Rajiv Gandhi which was the proximate cause of the assassination. The commission also held that the state intelligence branch failed to provide intelligence back up and keep a watch on suspicious elements at the meeting. The commission observed that the assassination could have been averted but for the lapse of the Tamil Nadu police force.
The assassination stunned and shocked the nation. A demand was raised to set up another commission of inquiry to encompass not only the whole conspiracy behind the assassination and the killers but also the brains and conspirators and the sequence of events that led to the assassination.
Therefore, on August 23, 1991, an inquiry commission was set up under Justice Milap Chand Jain, popularly called the Jain Commission. The commission was to make an inquiry in respect of the following matters:
(a) The sequence of events leading to and all the facts and circumstances relating to, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur (other than the matters covered by the terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice J S Verma);
(b) Whether any person or persons or agencies were responsible for conceiving, preparing and planning the assassination and whether there was any conspiracy in this behalf and, if so, all its ramifications.
According to the investigation of the Special Investigation Team, the first batch of conspirators arrived in India on September 12, 1990. In the beginning, one S Vijayan, his wife Selvaluxmi and her father S Baskaran arrived at Rameswaram from Jaffna, Sri Lanka and registered themselves as refugees. They were seen off in Jaffna by Sivarasan and by his aide Subha. It was told that Sivarasan made use of Vijayan's house to send wireless messages about the successful assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
Further to SIT investigation, it became clear that Santhan, Murugan), Shankar, Vijayanandan, Ruban Kanagasabapathy, Ashtray, Robert Payas, Jayakumar, Shanthi, Vijayan, Selvaluxmi, Bhaskaran, Raman, and Vicky along with accused Sivarasan, Dhanu, Subha, Nero, Gundu (Trichy) Santhan, Suresh Master, Dixon, Amman, Driver Anna and Jamuna infiltrated into India clandestinely from Sri Lanka on different dates. (All these accused were dead when the case came up for hearing.)
It was reported that a team comprising Pottu Amman, alias Shanmuganathan Sivasankaran, the intelligence chief of the LTTE, Akhila, the Deputy Chief of Intelligence, who joined the militant organization in 1987 and epitomized the derring-do of female Tigers - she died on November 1, 1995, during and operation by the Sri Lankan Army against the LTTE - and Sivarasan master-minded the operation by being in Tamil Nadu.
According to the SIT investigation, one Muthurajah, an LTTE communications specialist, and Baby Subramanian, a senior LTTE cadre who was in charge of the LTTE's printing press in Madras, were summoned back to Jaffna and both were briefed by Prabakaran on the modalities of the operation in Tamil Nadu.
When the duo returned to Madras it was said that they befriended one S Bhagynathan, a 25-year-old Dravida Kalaga (DK) activist. Baby Subramanian offered to print the political magazine which Bhagyanathan wanted to publish very cheaply, even on loan and on easy repayment terms. Through him, the LTTErs became acquainted with the photographer Haribabu of the Subha News Photo Agency, his sister Nalini and mother S Padma, who worked as a nurse. They were all subsequently indoctrinated and worked as a team in the operation to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi.
Sivarasan, who planned the operation in Madras from January 1990, left for Jaffna in February 1991 and returned to India in March 1991 with enough gold to finance the operation. In February 1991, V Siriharan, alias Thass, alias Indu Master, alias Murugan, an LTTE expert in explosives, arrived in Madras. Meanwhile, it was reported that G Perarivalan, alias Arivu, a computer wizard and an expert in electronics and the brother-in-law of Jayakumar, designed the belt bomb, with Murugan's guidance.
Six grenades containing cyclonite explosives, known as C4-RDX, each fitted with 2,800 splinters of 2 mm were secretly flown from Singapore. Arivu held them in a denim belt using a silver wire connected to the nine-volt battery and two goggle switches to detonate it. The whole device was enclosed in a casing of Trinitrotoluene (TNT). Dhanu and her stand in Subha were both members of the women's wing.
On April 10, 2002, Tiger Supremo Prabakaran met the international press at Kilinochchi, located in the Wanni region of Sri Lanka. Many questions related to Rajiv Gandhi's murder.
Q: You have been indicted in the Gandhi assassination?
Prabakaran: This case is going on. Four persons have been convicted. They are seeking amnesty at the moment. We do not want to make any comments at this moment.
Q: Are you denying involvement in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination?
A: (Mr Balasingham). I know this is a sensitive issue, not only for you but for us as well. You are raising an issue that happened 10 years ago. We want to have friendly relations with India.
Q: What have you to say about the charges?
Prabakaran: This is a "tragic incident" that took place 10 years back. We cannot comment on the issue.
Q: The Rajiv Gandhi assassination ...
A: (Mr Balasingham) You are trying to dominate the press conference. You have come here when the peace process is on. You are talking of an old incident. Do not dig into the past.
At this press conference, it must be noted that Prabakaran did not deny involvement in the assassination, opening the floodgates of positive confirmation.
Recently, Nirupama Subramaniam, an Indian woman journalist who earlier represented the Indian Express and who at present represents The Hindu of Madras, was asked by the Sunday Observer on June 16, 2002:
Q: What impression have you formed of Velupillai Prabakharan?
A: He successfully led his cadres but led his people into ruin. I have not interviewed him, but I was at Killinochchi and the press conference seemed like a huge ordeal of logistical problems, security checks and catching deadlines. But you can put it down to valuable experience as to how the LTTE conduct themselves and relate to the outside world. I found it most surprising that they were not prepared for the most obvious questions from the lots of Indians present. When the question about Rajiv Gandhi was asked, they went into a huddle and it seemed like ages before they came out with a response and that they didn't want to comment on it because it was sub judice. But it was really post judice as the convictions had been handed out. As long as Prabhakaran was in shadows, the Indian public seemed to have forgotten him. But his sudden appearance on Indian TV screens brought the whole issue up front again.
After Prabakaran's press conference, G Parthasarathy, who was earlier an information adviser to Rajiv Gandhi and the spokesman of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces in Sri Lanka, in a cover story of Frontline, the Indian fortnightly magazine, April 27-May 10, said, "There appears to be little doubt that it was the inaction on the part of the V P Singh government in responding to this act of terrorism on Indian soil that emboldened Prabakaran to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in 1991."
Next: Gandhi' s killers and investigators reprehensible
Chapter 45: War continues with brutality
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