'Jain has just paraphrased the Congress affidavit'

Print edition : November 29, 1997

V.P. Singh, who expectedly finds himself yet again at the centre of controvery after the Jain Commission Interim Report was submitted, shared some of his perceptions with Sukumar Muralidharan and N. Ram in the course of a two-hour-long interview. Excerpts:

What is your first reaction to the findings of the Jain Commission?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. During my tenure as Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi was safe, despite the fact that he visited Tamil Nadu eight times during my tenure and 11 times during Karunanidhi's. Now if the Prime Minister was unmindful and the LTTE was there in force, could Rajiv have been safe? It only shows that extra care was taken. This is my final explanation. Now something happened seven months after I demitted office and when I had no authority. How can you fix responsibility when I was not in authority?

But did the decisions taken in your tenure have a bearing on the subsequent course of events?

SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

You cannot put things that way. That brings up several other questions. Did the decisions of Rajiv Gandhi not have a bearing on us? Let me tell you of one case, of the SPG withdrawal, where we followed Rajiv's law. There is no order of withdrawal under my signature. If there is, then it is an order of Rajiv Gandhi's expressed in the form of the SPG Act.

You did not sign that order?

Rajiv Gandhi made that Act, not me. There is no order of withdrawal, because legally a thing that has lapsed is simply not there - it cannot be withdrawn. Physically we may have assigned the SPG there, but then there was no legal basis for it. But if Rajiv's law was at fault, as the Congressmen now say, then they had occasion to amend it when they had a friendly government - not only friendly, but a dependent government - in office. But Chandra Shekhar has said that this matter was never brought up by the Congress party during his tenure.

And it is not as if Rajiv never used to speak about his security. He has issued press statements about his security. I have pointed out that this claim by Congressmen - that he never used to talk about his security - is belied by the facts. A further lapse, perhaps even the ultimate crime, is that the deadliest of the LTTE cadre, the human bomb Dhanu, was taken to Rajiv by the Congress. The photograph of her body, and that of the Congress lady worker who took her to Rajiv lying side by side, is evidence of this.

There are some suspicions that she may have been staying on the premises owned by a former Congress MP.

She (Dhanu) had connections in the Congress - there is no doubt about that. She could not have come from Sri Lanka and just caught hold of one lady worker and got in to the Rajiv Gandhi meeting. So the Congress is guilty on all counts. The security ring was tight, because there were nine policemen killed along with Rajiv. But Dhanu was called by Rajiv himself. (Former Union Home Minister) S.B. Chavan has mentioned this somewhere. Even if you put the Army on guard, if access control is breached by your own men, or by the protectee himself - how can you blame the security people? Rajiv was killed by a proximate assassin and proximity cannot be achieved without insider help, and here insider help was given by the Congress. And if the protectee himself - who is the highest level of insider - fails to cooperate, then we cannot really blame the security agencies.

Are you making a charge of negligence or complicity?

All I am saying is that somewhere in these matters, the responsibilities of the protectee have to be fixed. No security cover can work without the cooperation of the protectee. When the assassination took place, there was President's rule in the State. A Governor appointed by the Congress was in power and a Congress-supported government was in place at the Centre. Whatever the Congress may say, assassinations have not taken place in States controlled by other parties. They have always occurred in Congress-controlled States and they always insist on making a big political issue out of it.

Now about the extra precautions which I took. The law does not provide room for SPG cover for former Prime Ministers. I was covered by this law until the amendments were made to the SPG Act. I did not even have Black Cat security. My wife used to travel in public taxis. But I accepted all these as part of the risk of the profession. A bomb was thrown at me in Bihar. It struck an overhead wire and fell into the crowd, killing a young boy. Acid bulbs were thrown at me in Madhya Pradesh just a few months after I demitted office. After Rajiv demitted office, I placed instructions immediately that he should continue to have SPG cover.

The charge is that it was replaced by an alternative system that was inadequate.

That was the legal situation and I did not enforce the law without consulting my security advisors. Now I have been blamed for following the advice of these experts. In a war situation, doesn't a Prime Minister feel obliged to listen to the advice of his field commanders? And if I had overruled the advice of my experts, would that not have been an irregularity in itself? The other charge is that I did not apply my mind and referred the matter to the Cabinet. Now where else can I refer such a sensitive matter?

And after all this, I would like to tell you that there is no official order of mine on this issue, other than one saying that the most comprehensive security should be provided to Rajiv Gandhi. I repeated this point twice over, and I told the people concerned that money is no problem and that I owed this much to the Gandhi family. This is a part of the official record.

Let me ask you to make certain comparisons. Take the case of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. How was he killed after the solemn agreement he signed with Rajiv Gandhi? Was Rajiv not responsible for the kind of security that was provided to him? But he was not even given any Central security, when those Black Cat commandos assigned to guard H.K.L. Bhagat and Jagdish Tytler could easily have been given to him. He was a man who was exposed to a threat because he had served the national cause. Is security a concern only for the breed of ex-Prime Ministers? Are they an endangered species that requires special protection?

Let us come to the other point made by the Jain Commission, on the LTTE's activities in Tamil Nadu during your regime at the Centre and Karunanidhi's in the State.

I would like to place certain facts before you. In March 1989, Rajiv contacted Karunanidhi and said that he wanted to meet Prabakaran. But Karunanidhi did not act on it because the Congress was getting closer to Jayalalitha. And he said that if they are getting closer, then they will use this against me, I will be in a quandary. In May perhaps, or June, Rajiv sent for Murasoli Maran from Chennai. He told Maran to convey to Prabakaran that if he distances himself from Premadasa, he would see to it that matters are settled on favourable terms for him - which means that he was virtually promising Eelam. Now this was Rajiv's personal initiative and was totally against Government of India policy.

The situation was like this: twice in that year - he is very much the Prime Minister at the time - he affirms that he wants to have the friendship and confidence of Prabakaran. Could he have imagined that while he was greeting Prabakaran with open arms, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu would shower the LTTE with bullets? If this is the mind of the Prime Minister, then administratively how do you expect the Chief Minister to react?

Another point is that the Nag tribunal, which banned the LTTE, said that since early 1989 the situation in the State of Tamil Nadu became ominous. Who was Prime Minister then? Rajiv was there for eleven months of 1989. Why did he not do something to stop these ominous events? Now no State government has the power to seal the sea coasts; only the Centre has that power. There is nothing on record to suggest that he ever did any such thing during that period.

The question also arises: When the LTTE was in battle with the IPKF, why did they not ban it? Unless there was something going on behind the backs of the soldiers, behind the back of the Government of India. Then you should also note that the order issued during Rajiv's time against the LTTE was of search and seizure of weapons and wireless sets - arrest was prescribed only when resistance was encountered. There was not even the political will to arrest the LTTE when your men are fighting them. Why was Kittu freely moving about in Chennai all through those months of IPKF hostilities against the LTTE? And now they say that the State Government did not act. All these matters were placed before Justice Jain, who has ignored them in his report. This is most unfair, since as a judge he must consider all the depositions.

If you are saying that Justice Jain was less than fair, are you suggesting that he was working to a predetermined agenda?

Jain has just paraphrased the Congress affidavit and returned it duly signed! The affidavit that was filed six years back by (Congress counsel) R.N. Mittal has been signed and released to the public as a commission report.

The Jain thesis seems to be that until 1986 we armed and trained the LTTE cadre, but this did not amount to supporting anti-national activities. But after hostilities broke out with the Indian Army, the LTTE became a hostile force and should have been unequivocally opposed.

In which case the point arises, why were they not arrested - or banned? Why were large numbers of their cadre sent back to Sri Lanka? And why was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu being pressed for contacts with the LTTE, with nobody in the government, except for certain bureaucrats, knowing about it. The IPKF went with a mandate to maintain the peace. Not only did they have to fight, they also became victims of duplicity. Premadasa finally gave an ultimatum to the IPKF to return, and we got the impression that he had negotiated with Prabakaran also. So we became targets of both - Premadasa and the Tamils. These are the events leading to the Rajiv assassination.

In fact, if ever there was a time when we did not negotiate with the LTTE, that was during my tenure. We knew that even after the IPKF was withdrawn, there would be a fight between the EPRLF and the LTTE and between the Sri Lankan army and all the rest, and that there would be an influx of refugees into our soil. So my prime concern was that the Sri Lankan war should not come into our territory. These decisions were not taken in the way Rajiv did, behind the backs of government. We had a meeting. External Affairs Minister Gujral, Foreign Secretary S.K. Singh, Chief Minister Karunanidhi and Maran were there. It has been minuted. It was an open decision. Karunanidhi conveyed the message to the LTTE that there would be no further support for it.

I have also pointed out - and this is part of the DMK deposition also - that there are several newspaper reports from that time quoting speeches made by Jayalalitha, in which she said that the LTTE is fighting a just war. Rajiv often sat through such meetings and he never once said that the LTTE is an anti-national force. What would the people understand from this? And then we say that the Government of Tamil Nadu is at fault!

But were the clandestine links with the LTTE maintained, since the Jain Commission mentions that there was a government policy of permitting injured LTTE cadre to come through for treatment in India?

The point is that the wounded do not come in with their political badges on. There were EPRLF cadre whom we had supported and set up, there were civilians who were also involved. There was no such policy of admitting militant cadre for medical treatment. But we had to allow certain humanitarian access. Look at all the care that has been taken in Kashmir, with the Army and the BSF sealing the borders. Have they been able to stop infiltration?

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