Awaiting judgment

Published : Nov 29, 1997 00:00 IST

THE criminal investigation into the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the trial in the case relied on upright and diligent work by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and by the prosecutors. For the accused in the case, the day of judgment is near at hand.

On November 5, the arguments in the case concluded with the prosecution responding to the arguments of the defence. Soon after, the judge of Designated Court-1, V. Navaneetham, reserved orders until January 28, 1998.

Hearings in the case, including the examination of witnesses, the questioning of the accused by the court under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and arguments by the prosecution and the defence lawyers, lasted 605 days.

SIT, headed by D.R. Karthikeyan and comprising some of the CBI's finest investigating officers, was set up to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister and Congress(I) president Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991. Rajiv Gandhi was killed in an explosion triggered by a suicide bomber, Dhanu; 17 others - nine police officials, seven members of the public and Dhanu - were killed. Forty-four persons were injured.

SIT made the first arrests in the case - of S. Bhagynathan and his mother S. Padma, both of whom are among the accused - on June 11, 1991 in Chennai. It filed the final report (or charge-sheet, as it is commonly known) before the then Designated Judge S.M. Siddickk on May 20, 1992, a day before Rajiv Gandhi's first death anniversary.

The charge-sheet blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) headed by V. Prabakaran for the assassination and named 41 persons as accused. Of these, 12 are dead and three - Prabakaran, LTTE intelligence wing chief Pottu Amman and LTTE women's intelligence wing deputy chief Akkila - are declared absconding. Indian laws, however, do not provide for in absentia trial of the accused. The remaining 26 faced the trial in the Designated Court at Poonamallee, 30 km from Chennai. Of these, 13 are Sri Lankan Tamils and 13 Indians. They are S. Nalini (sister of Bhagyanathan); Chinna Santhan; Murugan; Shankar; D. Vijayanandan; B. Reuban; S. Kanagasabapathy; Athirai; B. Robert Payas; S. Jayakumar; J. Shanthi; S. Vijayan; V. Selvaluxmi; S. Bhaskaran alias Velayudam; S. Shanmugavadivelu alias Thambi Anna; P. Ravichandran alias Ravi; M. Suseendran alias Mahesh; G. Perarivalan; Irumborai; S. Bhagyanathan; S. Padma; Subha Sundaram; K. Dhanasekaran alias Raju; N. Rajasuriya alias Rangan; T. Vigneswaran alias Vicky; and J. Ranganath.

The accused were charged with offences under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, the Indian Penal Code, the Explosive Substances Act, the Arms Act, the Passports Act, the Foreigners Act and the Wireless Telegraphy Act.

The prosecution case was that Prabakaran, Pottu Amman, Akkila and others conspired to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi and used Sivarajan, Dhanu, Subha and others to carry out their plan. (Sivarajan and Subha committed suicide when a SIT team was about to raid their Bangalore hideout in August 1991.) The prosecution argued that the LTTE conspired to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi for fear that if he returned to power, he would reverse the Indian Government's policy of non-interference in Sri Lankan affairs and undermine the LTTE's military campaign for a Tamil Eelam.

The pre-trial proceedings, that is, arguments by the prosecution and defence lawyers, began on May 5, 1993. The court framed charges against the 26 accused on November 24, 1993. These proceedings were allowed to be covered by two news agencies, the Press Trust of India and the United News of India. When the trial started from January 19, 1994 with the examination of the witnesses, all proceedings were in camera. Designated Judge Siddickk had passed an order on May 20, 1992 that none of the proceedings should be published; even the names and addresses of the coded witnesses were not allowed to be published.

Of the 1,044 witnesses cited, 288 were examined. The prosecution produced 1,477 documents, which ran to about 10,000 pages. The defence produced 74 documents. The prosecution produced 1,180 material objects to back up its case.

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