Story of three probes

Print edition : September 06, 1997

THE assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur has come under the scrutiny of the Special Investigation Team of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Justice J.S. Verma Commission of Inquiry and the Justice M.C. Jain Commission of Inquiry.

After a remarkable investigative effort, the SIT, led by D.R. Karthikeyan, concluded that it was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam which assassinated Rajiv Gandhi under the orders of its leader, V. Prabakaran. The SIT filed the charge-sheet (Final Report) before the Designated Court on May 20, 1992, naming 41 persons as the accused. Prabakaran, LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman, and deputy leader of its women's intelligence wing Akkila were the prime accused. Since these three are "absconding", they were declared proclaimed offenders. Twelve of the accused died. The remaining 26 face trial in the Designated Court, Poonamallee, near Chennai.

The trial has entered the final stage. The examination of 288 witnesses for the prosecution was completed on May 5, 1997. The questioning by Designated Judge V. Navaneetham of the 26 accused is over. There were no defence witnesses to be examined. Arguments by the prosecution are over. Arguments by defence counsel are under way. The Judge is expected to give his verdict by the end of 1997.

The Commission headed by Justice J.S. Verma (now Chief Justice of India) was set up on May 27, 1991. Its terms of reference were to find out "(a) whether the assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi could have been averted and whether there were lapses or dereliction of duty in this regard on the part of any of the individuals responsible for his security; (b) the deficiencies, if any, in the security system and arrangements as prescribed or operated in practice which might have contributed to the assassination." Besides, the Commission might "recommend the corrective remedies and measures that need to be taken for the future with respect to the matters specified in clause (b)..."

The Commission submitted its conclusions in June 1992 under three headings: findings, lapses or dereliction of duty and deficiencies in the security system. It also gave a set of recommendations. It found fault with the intelligence agencies of the Central and Tamil Nadu governments, blamed the Tamil Nadu police for not having strictly enforced the prescribed standards of security for Rajiv Gandhi, and criticised the "lack of discipline and general irresponsibility in the behaviour of the Congress partymen present at the venue of the meeting" at Sriperumbudur, among other things.

The terms of reference of the Justice M.C. Jain Commission required it to inquire into (a) "the sequence of events leading to, and all the facts and circumstances relating to, the assassination of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur (other than the matters covered by the terms of reference for the Commission headed by Justice Verma)" and (b) "whether one 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."

Since the Jain Commission's interim report deals only with the sequence of events between 1981 and 1991, it cannot obviously clash with the conclusion of the SIT that the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was the handiwork of the LTTE alone. But the Jain Commission will soon begin its work on the conspiracy angle of the assassination.

But the rub is that the SIT, which enlisted the services of some of its finest investigators to unravel the crime, has already laid the blame at the door of the LTTE. Its police officers travelled abroad to get to the bottom of the matter.

Is the Jain Commission equipped to do the job of the police? What if it presents a "finding" that agencies other than the LTTE were also involved in the killing? Various conspiracy theories have been submitted before the Jain Commission.

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