A few months after I had retired and settled down in Chennai, the late S.A. Subbiah, who had succeeded me in Geneva and subsequently became the head of the Sri Lanka division in the headquarters, rang me up from Delhi to say that he was coming to Chennai specially to meet me to discuss about the LTTE. I told him I would meet him in the R&AW guest house where he had planned to stay.
After his arrival, I went to the guest house. He told me: “Sir, I have come to meet you for two reasons. First, I wanted to thank you for saving the reputation of the organization.
The R&AW has come out largely unscathed from the enquiry held by the one-man enquiry commission of retired Chief Justice J.S.Verma on the security failures, which enabled the LTTE to kill Rajiv Gandhi.
There has been all-round appreciation of your assessment sent to Vinod Pandey after V.P.Singh took over as the Prime Minister on likely threats to Rajiv Gandhi’s security. In your assessment, you had said that there was a greater threat to the security of Rajiv Gandhi as the Leader of the Opposition than to the security of V.P.Singh as the Prime Minister. You had also stated that the main threats to Rajiv Gandhi would be from the Khalistani terrorists in the North and from the Sri Lankan Tamil terrorist organizations in the South.
Every time Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister went to the South, this officer used to ring me up to say that the SPG should be alert to the possibility of a threat to his life from the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Subsequently, at inter-departmental meetings to discuss the security arrangements for Rajiv Gandhi as the Leader of the Opposition, you had strongly pleaded for the continuance of the security cover of the Special Protection Group (SPG) to him.Sir, the second reason I wanted to meet you was to find out who was the source who told you that there was a threat to Rajiv Gandhi’s security from the Sri Lankan Tamil terrorist organizations.
We notice that you had been saying this even when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister. We wanted to re-establish contact with your source, who seems to be very well-informed, but I could not find in the files left by you any source report on this subject”
I told Subbiah that my repeated cautions on the likelihood of a threat to the life of Rajiv Gandhi from the Sri Lankan Tamil terrorist organizations were not based on any source report.
It was my assessment based on what I had heard after I returned from Geneva in 1988 about the deep feelings of humiliation and anger entertained by some of these organizations—particularly by the LTTE and its leader Prabakaran—over the way they were treated by Rajiv Gandhi and his advisers after the conclusion of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987.
They also nursed strong grievances over the alleged violations of the human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils by the Indian Peace-Keeping Force sent to Sri Lanka to restore peace in the Tamil areas.
I also told Subbiah that my foreboading was also influenced by the warnings which I was getting repeatedly from the Chennai office of the R&AW regarding the likelihood of a threat to Rajiv Gandhi, even when he was the Prime Minster, from the Sri Lankan Tamils.
The Chennai office of the R&AW was then headed by an outstanding and low-profile IPS officer of the Karnataka cadre. Every time Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister went to the South, this officer used to ring me up to say that the SPG should be alert to the possibility of a threat to his life from the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Even shortly after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, at a meeting of concerned officers, I was asked for my views as to who might have killed him. Without a moments hesitation, I replied “LTTE”. My view was dismissed.
I told Subbiah that my problem was that everybody in Delhi—in the intelligence community, in the JIC, in the MHA, in the Army headquarters, in the MEA and in the PMO— had convinced themselves that the Sri Lankan Tamils would never harm Rajiv Gandhi because he and his mother had done more to help them than any other Indian leader. All my cautions—based on my own assessment and on that of the then head of the R&AW’s Chennai office— were treated with skepticism.
Even shortly after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, at a meeting of concerned officers, I was asked for my views as to who might have killed him. Without a moment’s hesitation, I replied “LTTE”. My view was dismissed.
The prevailing view was that he had fallen a tragic victim to the factional politics in the Tamil Nadu Congress (I) or that he must have been killed by extremist elements of Tamil Nadu. It was only after a video-recording showing the suicide bomber and the blast recorded by a photographer, hired by the LTTE that was recovered, everybody accepted that it was the LTTE which had assassinated him.
The Government of India had appointed two enquiry commissions in the wake of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
The first Commission constituted by retired Chief Justice J.S.Verma was asked to go into the intelligence and physical security lapses which were responsible for the assassination.
The second, constituted by retired Justice M.C.Jain, was asked to go into the conspiracy aspect. The Verma Commission kept itself strictly confined to its terms of reference and carried out a thorough enquiry with a laser-sharp focus into the acts of commission and omission of the intelligence and security agencies, which contributed to the assassination.
As had happened during the enquiry into the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the enquiry into the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi too planted many needles of suspicion, without being able to remove any of the suspicions.
The Jain Commission lost focus and sought to go into matters, which had little relevance to the issue of an LTTE conspiracy. As a result, it took a very long time to complete its enquiries and the Government had to give it one extension after another. It even sought to go into the wisdom of the entire Sri Lanka policy of the Government, the operational policies of the R&AW and the IB etc. This caused considerable embarrassment to the Narasimha Rao Government at various stages.
It had to face a dilemma—- if it agreed to the course of action of the Commission and placed before it all the operational files demanded by it, the operational security of the intelligence agencies would have been diluted. If it did not agree to it, there might have been allegations of a cover-up by the Government and its intelligence agencies. Ultimately, the intelligence agencies let him have access to whatever files he wanted to see and whatever information he wanted, even if, in their view, those were not relevant to his terms of reference.
They did this in order not to give room for any suspicion. Despite all the time taken and all the access given to him, the Commission’s report left much to be desired. As had happened during the enquiry into the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the enquiry into the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi too planted many needles of suspicion, without being able to remove any of the suspicions. Without throwing light to remove the areas of darkness surrounding the two tragic assassinations, the two enquiries only added to the darkness.
The CBI itself, under the brilliant leadership of Vijay Karan, S.K. Dutta and D.R.Karthikeyan and with the equally brilliant co-operation of the late Subbiah, carried out a thorough investigation of the LTTE’s plot to kill Rajiv Gandhi, its successful execution , the identities of those involved—whether in Sri Lanka or India or elsewhere— and their respective roles. Many of those involved—the principal killers— committed suicide after the assassination through a suicide bomber and thereby evaded arrest and prosecution. Many others, who did not or could not commit suicide, were identified, arrested and prosecuted.
The case ended in their conviction. Prabakaran and others, who conceived and orchestrated the conspiracy from their headquarters in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, have managed to escape the reach of the law so far.
At every stage, attempts were made to embarrass Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress (I). When his party urged that the SPG protection be extended to him, it was told that while this would not be possible…
Apart from the investigation of the assassination and the related conspiracy, another important aspect was the identification of the acts of commission and omission by the political leadership of the day, the intelligence agencies and those responsible for physical security which resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Any objective examination of the circumstances, which led to his assassination, would have clearly brought out that Rajiv Gandhi was a tragic victim of the politicization of his physical security by the Government of V.P.Singh and its senior officers, the failure of the Chandra Shekhar Government to rectify the situation, the failure of the intelligence agencies to closely monitor the activities of the LTTE from the point of view of his security, the shocking negligence of the Tamil Nadu Police and the total lack of co-ordination among the agencies responsible for his protection.
So long as he was the Prime Minister, the SPG, which was set up after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, was responsible for the protection of Rajiv Gandhi and his family. It was patterned after the US Secret Service, which is responsible for the protection of the US President and his family. The US Secret Service also exercises some responsibilities for the protection of all past Presidents and their families. When the SPG Act was passed by the Parliament, it was given the responsibility only for the protection of the Prime Minister and his family. Since it was created, it had developed expertise in all matters relating to the PM’s security— close proximity protection, access control, anti-explosives checks, advance examination of the places to be visited by the Prime Minister etc.
It had also developed a well-tested drill for co-ordination with other agencies at the Centre and with the Police of the State to be visited by the Prime Minister. The SPG was in a position to neutralize any threat arising as a result of acts of possible negligence by the State Police. The Prime Minister virtually enjoyed two layers of protection—one by the State Police and the other by the SPG. There was thus an in-built fail-safe mechanism. Its work was supervised continuously by a senior officer of the rank of Secretary designated as Secretary (Security).