A political agenda

Published : Nov 15, 1997 00:00 IST

Extracts of the Commission's first report, leaked to a section of the press, strengthen the argument of the Commission's critics that it serves an unwritten political agenda.


EXTRACTS of Justice M.C. Jain's first report on the sequence of events that led to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which were published in a section of the press in early November, strengthened the argument of the Commission's critics that it served an unwritten political agenda.

The first report, leaked to India Today magazine and some New Delhi-based newspapers in early November, appears at its core to be an affirmation of fictions authored by ambitious young Congress(I) politicians in search of a career-enhancing issue. The assassination, Justice Jain reportedly discovered after 72 months of inquisition, "would not have been possible without a nexus between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Tamils in Tamil Nadu and tacit support from the state government and law enforcement agencies". The actors in this fantastic conspiracy? The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, and former Prime Ministers Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Chandra Shekhar.

Justice Jain's 17-volume account deals with one part of his mandate, that is, to discover "the sequence of events leading to, and all the facts... relating to" Rajiv Gandhi's tragic murder. The second report will concern itself with the structure of the conspiracy that the "facts" suggest. The first report's allegations are not new. In its September 19 issue, Frontline had exhaustively reported the contents of a two-page briefing note on the report, obligingly prepared for the benefit of the press by top officials of the Jain Commission. Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta had promised to table the report in the Lok Sabha in the next session of Parliament. That the well-timed leak comes in the middle of an internal debate in the Congress(I) on the question of its support to the United Front Government is almost certainly not coincidental.

THE first report is built around two central themes: the role of governments in Tamil Nadu and the security arrangements for Rajiv Gandhi. Much of its most explosive charges seem directed at the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government of 1989-1991. Based on the Commission's discovery of "credible reports... of active connivance of some DMK leaders with the LTTE", paragraph 73.21 reportedly argues that "the conclusion is irresistible that there was tacit support to the LTTE by Shri M. Karunanidhi and his government and law enforcement agencies." It says: "Soon after the DMK government took over the reigns of power in Tamil Nadu the LTTE slowly began to consolidate itself in the state and their clandestine activities, hitherto dormant, became more and more pronounced." Following this, the LTTE sent "personal emissaries to Shri Karunanidhi for seeking his active support in their battle against the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force). These overtures by the LTTE towards the DMK started a chain of events which led to the LTTE's survival and growth in Tamil Nadu even when the entire attitude of Government had changed".

Going by at least some of the key depositions made before the Commission, Justice Jain's conclusions seem mystifying. In content, these conclusions are similar to the arguments put forward in defence of the dismissal of the DMK Government in 1991. P. Chidambaram, now Union Finance Minister, had told the Lok Sabha in February 1991 that the DMK had abetted the massacre of 13 members of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) in June 1990. Deposing before the Jain Commission last year, however, Chidambaram made it clear that his speech was a "political statement" made on behalf of the Congress(I). It was difficult, he said, to relate "the increase or decrease of LTTE activity" to a political moment. If his deposition could be attributed to political opportunism, the account given by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha most certainly cannot. Karunanidhi's arch rival M.G. Ramachandran, she said, had also "supported the LTTE." "It was the policy of the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government," Jayalalitha said, "to support the LTTE, as it was believed that the Tigers represented the hopes and aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils."

Did Karunanidhi, as Justice Jain claims, defy consensus policy in his stand on the LTTE? Jayalalitha's own deposition suggests that such a conclusion is not true. She said: "Before Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, the LTTE was perceived as the saviour of Sri Lankan Tamils, but after the assassination, they were seen as a group of deadly terrorists" (emphasis added). It is clear that the shift in the perceptions about the LTTE clearly came well after the fall of the DMK Government. And Karunanidhi has never made secret of his past sympathies for the organisation, but denied that this solidarity had ever led to violation of the law. On November 22, 1996, however, he gave to the Commission a letter purportedly written by former Tamil Nadu Home Secretary R. Nagarajan to Jayalalitha. Nagarajan had claimed in a trial court that he had been ordered by Karunanidhi to stonewall investigations into the murder EPRLF leader K. Padmanabha. The letter in Karunanidhi's possession suggested that Nagarajan was acting on Jayalalitha's instructions. Finally, Karunanidhi argued before the Commission that he had opposed the LTTE as early as 1986, after the murder of Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation leader Siri Sabaratnam allegedly by the LTTE in May that year.

In fairness, Justice Jain does point out that Tamil political support to the LTTE predated Karunanidhi's coming to power, and that Central military support to the organisation continued until the IPKF was sent into Sri Lanka. "The Sri Lankan Tamil militants," he notes while referring to the period 1982-1986, "were carrying out propaganda, publicity and even training of their cadres in the know of the Central and State government authorities. They also indulged in clandestine activities including procurement of armaments and smuggling activities." But as the depositions before the Commission and a wealth of independent reports have shown, such support continued in various forms after 1986, and cut across party lines. Where Justice Jain errs notably is in the a priori assumption that political support and sympathy de facto was a contributory factor to the assassination itself. The history of the Rajiv Gandhi government in setting up training camps for the LTTE, for example, is well known, but it would be perverse to suggest that the former Prime Minister was a conspirator in his own assassination.

SIMILAR absence of logic vitiates Justice Jain's second theme: the security protection accorded to Rajiv Gandhi. Justice Jain reportedly found that "the downgrading of Rajiv Gandhi's SPG (Special Protection Group) security cover from 495 personnel to two Delhi police officials" by the V.P. Singh Government in 1990 "was unjustified and not based on professional conclusions". Though he stops short of accepting claims that V.P. Singh acted out of personal malice, Justice Jain endorses the position that the decision to withdraw SPG cover contributed to a situation in which Rajiv Gandhi could be assassinated. If the resources could be found for the SPG to protect the families of other former Prime Ministers and their families, including those of P.V. Narasimha Rao and V.P. Singh, Rajiv Gandhi could well have had the benefit of the same protection. Justice Jain's criticism extends to the Chandra Shekhar period. He reportedly points to an Intelligence Bureau warning that National Security Guard cover be extended to Rajiv Gandhi in the wake of an attack on Congress(I) MP Sajjan Kumar, who was accused of having played a role in the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. This attack took place on May 20, 1991, a day prior to the tragedy at Sriperumbudur.

The decision to withdraw the SPG cover given to Rajiv Gandhi, as Justice Jain acknowledges, was the consequence of a note prepared by Cabinet Secretary V.C. Pande for the Union Cabinet. According to the SPG Act, the note said, "security deployment is meant for the Prime Minister and cannot be extended to an ex-Prime Minister". "The scale of SPG deployed with Rajiv Gandhi", Pande's note said, "continues as in the past. Though as many as 251 SPG personnel and 244 CRPF personnel are on duty with him at present, it is not possible to spare such a big manpower out of the existing strength of the SPG deployed with Rajiv Gandhi on a continuous basis. The security arrangements for the PM are suffering [which] has been adversely commented on by the security agencies." "Such a large deployment of SPG," the note concluded, "gives a high profile visibility [to Rajiv Gandhi] and is attracting criticism even from state governments." The criticism, highly placed sources who were present at the Cabinet meeting told Frontline, came from Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal. The rustic politician, pointing to the unpopularity of extravagant security for VIPs which had contributed to Rajiv Gandhi's electoral defeat, sarcastically demanded that SPG cover be extended to Deputy Prime Ministers, and for that matter, ordinary people.

Justice Jain's accusatory suggestions appear well off the mark. For one, the SPG Act had been enacted by a Congress(I) government, which had rejected on the floor of the Lok Sabha repeated appeals to extend the cover to former Prime Ministers as well. As V.P. Singh pointed out, by the time threats from the LTTE came to power, Chandra Shekhar's "benami Congress government" was in power. Had the Congress(I) felt the need to change the Act, it could have done so with little trouble then. Then, the V.P. Singh Government had no reason to believe that there was any real threat to Rajiv Gandhi from the LTTE. That perception was to come about largely as a result of developments that took place with the beginning of the 1991 election campaign, held under the stewardship of the Congress(I)'s proxy Prime Minister. By some accounts, contacts between Rajiv Gandhi and the LTTE continued until very shortly before his assassination. The responsibility for providing security to Rajiv Gandhi lay with the Tamil Nadu police, which was acting under Central rule at the time of the assassination. Finally, as Chidambaram told the Commission, Rajiv Gandhi himself was "stoic about his security", neither encouraging him nor the Congress(I) to press for SPG protection.

REACTION to the leak of the Jain Commission's first report has been predictable so far. Its most immediate impact has been on the Congress(I), timed as the leak was to coincide with an internal battle on the future of the party's support to the United Front Government. Congress (I) president Sitaram Kesri has so far managed to ward of pressure to withdraw support. On the day news of the leak broke, he said that his party's support to the United Front Government and the Jain report were "separate issues". After the Congress Working Committee meeting of November 9, the party issued a resolution "noting with satisfaction that the Government has accepted its demand to lay the report on the opening day of the winter session." The party's course of action will be decided after it scrutinises the report and an Action Taken Report the Union Home Ministry has prepared. How long Kesri will be able to ward off pressure from 10, Janpath, is however far from clear.

Karunanidhi, for his part, dismissed the Jain Commission report's findings as "old wine in new bottles" and said that the findings would not have any implication for the continuance of the United Front. Speaking to mediapersons in Chennai, he denied some of the specific charges made in the report. According to him, the Intelligence reports on which the Commission appeared to have relied were "concocted by the Chandra Shekhar government to prepare the ground" for his government's dismissal in January 1991. When asked whether the Jain Commission had been used for harassing the DMK, Karunanidhi said that if it was so, it was politically unethical. The DMK, he said, would face any challenge arising from the charges made against it.

Justice Jain himself has said that the leak of his report was "most unfortunate" and that the excerpts published were "misleading". He also condemned the publication of excerpts as "unethical".

Whoever leaked the report, the sad truth is that the Jain Commission has allowed its wholly serious mandate to be hijacked by so-called Rajiv Gandhi "loyalists". Its findings fly in the face of the meticulous and solid case built by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed the assassination under the leadership of D.R. Karthikeyan. The results of the trial of the accused named by Karthikeyan's team in the Designated Court at Poonamalee, Chennai, are expected shortly. The consequences of possible contradiction between the complete Jain report and the findings of the SIT case could be serious. In June 1993, the Jain Commission passed an order assuming the power to "arrive at the truth while the same may not be established in a court of law for want of legally admissible evidence".

The recent extracts strengthen the criticism that the Jain Commission served an unstated political agenda, and that its inquiry, which has already taken 72 months, represents a waste of public money.

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