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A crack investigative team

Print edition : Feb 07, 1998 T+T-

The investigative and legal teams that cracked the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and secured the conviction of 26 of the accused were made up of top-notch professionals.

Devarayapuram Ramasamy Karthikeyan, who headed the Special Investigation Team of the Central Bureau of Investigation, deserves much of the credit for recruiting some of the finest investigative talent in India in the search for Rajiv Gandhi's assassins. His leadership was crucial in making the team work as a cohesive unit, often in the face of dispiriting odds.

Karthikeyan was, by some accounts, drafted into the SIT after many senior CBI officials failed to volunteer for the job. Then an Inspector-General of the Central Reserve Police Force's (CRPF) southern sector at Hyderabad, as well as Joint Director of the CBI, Karthikeyan was asked to take charge of the SIT a day after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination on May 21, 1991.

The 58-year-old Karthikeyan began his career as an Indian Police Service officer in Karnataka and eventually headed that State's Intelligence Department. He later acquired first-hand experience of insurgency situations as diverse as those in the northeastern region, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Sri Lanka. Karthikeyan was also responsible for starting up CRPF group centres in Hyderabad and Bangalore, a training institution in Coimbatore, and battalion camping sites at Tirupati, Mysore, Visakhapatnam, Hubli, Port Blair and several other places. He has travelled abroad extensively, once as a consular official in Moscow.

The SIT chief drove his team hard, but led by example. Karthikeyan worked upwards of 18 hours a day, galvanising the entire staff of his operation. Holidays and family commitments became peripheral concerns. As critically, he took personal responsibility for the SIT's working. As in any operation, the SIT's efforts were occasionally marred by mistakes. Karthikeyan never made sacrificial goats of junior officers in response to these errors. During the near-scuppering of the SIT's work by the controversial M.C. Jain Commission of Inquiry, Karthikeyan waged a long battle to ensure that the trial was not jeopardised. Although he had little political and judicial support for his stand, the SIT's stand on principle has been more than vindicated by subsequent events.

Perhaps Karthikeyan is best judged by his peers. Former CBI Joint Director K. Madhavan wrote of his team in the September 9, 1995 issue of Frontline. "I was amazed at the speed at which the team under Karthikeyan had performed," Madhavan wrote. "All (his) officers worked at least 16 to 18 hours a day for months on end before the case could be processed for filing a charge-sheet."

Karthikeyan is now Special Director of the CBI, supervising anti-corruption branches of the organisation nationwide. Among his responsibilities is the investigation of the Animal Husbandry Department fraud in Bihar. He is also the Special Director-General of the CRPF's southern sector, as well as the SIT's chief, making him possibly the only officer to hold three such diverse portfolios under separate Ministries.

His extra-professional interests include organising blood donation camps, as well as yoga and meditation. In June-July 1996, he led a 35-member team to Kailash-Mansarovar.


Radhavinod Raju was perhaps the most important single figure in the SIT after Karthikeyan. Rated as one of the best young investigative officers in the country, Raju led the hunt for the LTTE cell of Sivarajan, Subha and Nehru, as well as Tiruchi Santhan alias Peria Santhan. He was also in charge of the finalisation of the prosecution case and the supervision of the trial. Sivarajan might just have respected Raju's abilities, albeit with less enthusiasm than the officer's peers. "The SIT," the key assassination organiser reportedly told a friend shortly before his death, "is chasing me like a dog."

Raju first attracted his superiors' attention during a stint with the CBI in Kerala between 1983 and 1989, when he was instrumental in solving several corruption and murder cases. His handling of the cases won him tremendous public goodwill, and one of them even became the plot for a film, Oru CBI Diary Kurippu. Later, he served with distinction as Deputy Inspector-General of Police in terrorism-hit Anantnag in south Kashmir. K. Madhavan wrote in his Frontline article that Raju was chosen at the former Joint Director's suggestion. "Vijay Karan (then CBI Director) immediately telephoned the Home Secretary and ensured that both Karthikeyan and Raju would report to Vijay Karan the same evening," Madhavan recorded, describing the young officer's work as "excellent".

Raju says his work in the SIT has been positive. "It was a tremendous experience," he told Frontline, "we have done our work, and we feel professionally satisfied." He is expected to revert to his State cadre after the trial is concluded, and begin work again dealing with terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.


For an officer with a key role in the SIT's working, and not inconsiderable achievements to boast of, Deputy Inspector-General of Police R. Srikumar chooses to maintain a remarkably low profile. Reputed to be a methodical and painstaking investigator, Srikumar was brought to the SIT on the basis of his handling of several highly sensitive cases, notably in Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka.

An Indian Police Service officer of the 1973 batch, Srikumar served in Uttar Pradesh until 1981. The following year he joined the Karnataka cadre and moved on to the CBI in 1985. Srikumar was given the task of following several key threads in the SIT's investigation, notably the location of N. Shanmugam. Madhavan's article in Frontline praised Srikumar's work as being "excellent".

Srikumar is now the Director (Security and Vigilance) of the Karnataka State Roadways Corporation in Bangalore, holding the rank of Inspector-General of Police.


Generals are nothing without their armies. If the SIT's leadership proved successful in leading a brilliant investigation, it did so because the junior members of its team were among the best in India.

The SIT's fund of talent included S. Balaji, an Indian Police Service officer rated as one of the finest Superintendents of Police in the CBI. "Balaji was all brains," one senior official told Frontline, "he was our biggest asset." The official also praised the work of other Superintendents of Police who worked with the SIT, including Salim Ali, Amit Verma, C. Balasubramaniam, Ashok Kumar and D. Manoharan. Several of these officers have built brilliant careers after their time with the SIT ended.

Of the Deputy Superintendents of Police, members of the SIT remember two in particular. Chief Investigating Officer K. Ragothaman played a valiant role not only in the investigation, but in ensuring the successful conclusion of the trial. At one point in his record 65-day examination, Ragothaman suffered a mild heart attack, but was back in the witness box after four days. His colleague Y. Chellathurai became something of a SIT mascot as a consequence of his uncanny luck. "Every time he went somewhere with us," one of his superiors recalls, "we used to get some breakthrough."

"We had more than 40 Deputy Superintendents of Police and Inspectors," a SIT official told Frontline, "without the commitment and hard work of each one, solving the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi would have been impossible."


Turning the results of the SIT investigation into convictions was dependent on the skill and hard work of the prosecution lawyers. The young advocate credited with carrying much of the burden on his shoulders is Jacob Reginald Daniel, Deputy Legal Adviser to the CBI, South Zone. He was chosen to be the Public Prosecutor under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act for the Designated Court to prosecute the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case on behalf of the CBI.

Daniel, 45, was associated with the SIT from its inception, giving opinion on the reports periodically produced on the investigation by the CBI. He played a key role in the preparation of the charge-sheet and argued for the CBI in the framing of the charges against the accused. Before the charge-sheet was filed in May 1992, Daniel successfully opposed bail applications made by those accused of the assassination. He was assisted by advocates P. Rajamanickam, A.T. Dante, V. Gopinathan and N. Ranganathan, all of whom were appointed Special Public Prosecutors.

Daniel was selected as a Public Prosecutor by the CBI in 1983. He has appeared, among other cases, in the sensational Padmasundari affair in Pondicherry and in the anti-corruption cases against top government officers, senior bank officers, Customs officers and Central Excise personnel.