A point-by-point rebuttal

Print edition : November 29, 1997

ANGERED by the charges made against him in the Justice M.C. Jain Commission's Interim Report, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh is contemplating revoking his pledge to withdraw from public life. The ailing politician said he had been defamed by the Jain Commission and the Congress(I) and had no option but to explain his position to the people. In a 33-page note rebutting the charges against him, V.P. Singh addressed five key points raised in the Report on Rajiv Gandhi's security and then brought up the core issue of the Congress' links with the LTTE.

Two charges have been levelled against V.P. Singh's handling of Rajiv Gandhi's security after the latter demitted office. The first is that V.P. Singh failed to amend the Special Protection Group Act to extend to former Prime Ministers the security cover of this crack group. The second is that he failed to provide adequate alternative security to meet the perceived threat. In his note, V.P. Singh states that during his tenure, "Rajiv Gandhi visited Tamil Nadu more than eight times and on each occasion returned safe in spite of the existing threat from various extremist organisations like the LTTE." The alternative security provided to Rajiv Gandhi, he says, "was planned by top security officers of the Government of India and drafted by Shri K.N. Thakur, who had an experience unmatched by anyone else in the country." The Action Taken Report prepared by the P.V. Narasimha Rao Government in response to the J.S. Verma Commission Report had said that "the alternate security cover prescribed for Shri Rajiv Gandhi was comprehensive and adequate to meet the perceived high level of threat."

The Jain Interim Report has insinuated that V.P. Singh acted from malice in withdrawing SPG cover. V.P. Singh states in his note: "There was no order from the V.P. Singh Government to withdraw SPG. It lapsed by the operation of law." The note points out that V.P. Singh had asked Principal Secretary B.G. Deshmukh to contact Rajiv Gandhi and secure his opinion on the additional security arrangements he wanted to be provided to him, "including transfer of his trusted SPG personnel to the Delhi Police and assigning them for his security." Rajiv Gandhi deputed P. Chidambaram and on their requirement, six SPG personnel were transferred to Delhi Police and deputed for Rajiv Gandhi's security, the note said. Deshmukh advised V.P. Singh that the SPG Act should not be amended. "Did Deshmukh also have malice, especially when he was a Congress appointee?", V.P. Singh asks.

While Jain attributes political motives and short-sightedness to the decision to withdraw SPG cover, V.P. Singh points out that it was a collective decision. Threat assessments were first prepared by the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing. On January 4, 1990, a meeting attended by various agencies discussed Rajiv Gandhi's security; thereafter a Cabinet note dated January 23, 1990 was prepared and recommendations for the protection of Rajiv Gandhi were made on the basis of the unanimous recommendations of all concerned agencies, the note says.

V.P. Singh underlines the fact that Justice Jain's Report says nothing of the role of the Congress(I) in laying the foundations of the tragedy. The law to exclude former Prime Ministers from the purview of the SPG Act, he says, "was made by the Rajiv Gandhi Government and that was the original sin. His Government resisted all suggestions to extend the SPG to all ex-Prime Ministers." The note says that the "immediate reason" for the assassination was the fact that Dhanu, the suicide bomber, gained proximity to Rajiv Gandhi; this, it says, "was done by the Congress." The note further says that "despite the security provided to Rajiv Gandhi and his family members, he was breaking all security norms." A letter, dated May 25, 1990, from Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to Rajiv Gandhi complained that "on various occasions we have noticed with concern that private vehicles have been used which constitute an avoidable security risk." The Home Minister went on to cite no fewer than 44 instances of Rajiv Gandhi and his family disregarding security advice or breaking security norms, thereby flouting the security scheme provided to the former Prime Minister.

The rebuttal addresses several key omissions by the Jain Commission. The delay in providing to the Central Government along with the Interim Report the evidence led by V.P. Singh, which consisted of depositions running into 22 days and 576 pages, "is clearly an attempt to prevent the nation from knowing the complete truth. Under the rules framed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, the entire testimony has to be forwarded along with the Report." The Jain Commission, the note says, has indicted officers like (former Cabinet Secretary) V.P. Pande without giving them the 8-B notice. If they had been given the 8-B notice, they would have got a reasonable opportunity to be heard and to produce evidence in their defence.

Finally, V.P. Singh addresses the root cause of the assassination: the sponsorship of the LTTE by successive Congress(I) governments. "It was the Congress that lionised the LTTE, gave it a hero's image and entrenched it in the social fabric of Tamil Nadu. It was during Rajiv's regime that weapons on a massive scale were supplied to the LTTE and extensive training camps for the LTTE were set up in Tamil Nadu," the note says. The resonance of the link, the rebuttal suggests, reverberated until the very end. "The most glaring fact is that the most dangerous of the LTTE cadres, Dhanu - the human bomb - was taken by a lady Congress worker to Shri Rajiv Gandhi."

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