Rediff Logo News Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index

December 2, 1997


Vir Sanghvi

Who killed Rajiv?

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the fallout of the Jain Commission report is how little the uproar has to do with Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. Everyone is concerned with the Congress's withdrawal of support and with the new political equations that will result as a consequence. Congressmen are preoccupied with Sitaram Kesri's loosening hold on the party; the United Front is busy doing its own deals; and the BJP is eager to see what it can gain from the fracas.

Nobody seems to care who killed Rajiv Gandhi.

Those who have made an issue out of the DMK's apparent support to the LTTE are less concerned with avenging Rajiv than with grabbing power. Others treat the Jain Commission report as an irrelevance; as a nuisance that could upset many political applecarts.

And yet, it seems to me, the key issue is not the future of the United Front. (Did anybody seriously expect Inder Gujral to serve a full term?) Nor are the new alignments particularly important; Indian politics is in a state of flux and such alignments will change by the week.

What is important is this: a former prime minister of India was killed by a foreign terrorist group. And we still don't know why they did it or if they were acting on their own.

Compare our response to Rajiv Gandhi's assassination to the American obsession with John F Kennedy's murder. Americans never bought the Warren Commission's line that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. It now seems clear that they were right to be sceptical: today nobody seriously disputes that JFK's assassination was the result of a conspiracy with the Mafia as the most likely conspirators.

Contrast that with India's politicians who, when presented with a report that suggests that there was a conspiracy, pay no attention and try and see what they can get for themselves by posturing on Rajiv's grave.

Who did kill Rajiv Gandhi? At one level, the answer is clear. The LTTE functioned as the hit team. Many of those involved with the hit have been tried in Madras by the Special Investigation Team and will probably be convicted.

But did the LTTE act alone? Was it executing a contract? Did it have local support that has still not been identified?

So far, we have no good answers to those questions though the interim report of the Jain Commission offers some pointers. It is expected that the Commission's final report will be more explicit.

There are many reasons for believing that the LTTE was not acting alone. The Commission has intercepts of conversations between the LTTE and an as-yet-unidentified party in which the Tigers appear to be negotiating a deal to kill Rajiv. This suggests -- at the very least -- that the LTTE had accomplices. Or that it had been contracted to execute the hit.

There is other evidence to challenge the LTTE-acting-alone theory. In March 1991, three months before the assassination, there were rumours in mercenary circles in the Middle East that there was a contract out on Rajiv Gandhi. These rumours were solid enough for the Intelligence Bureau to file a report about them.

More significantly, Yasser Arafat also heard the rumours and told the Government of India that he had heard that someone was trying to kill Rajiv.

The LTTE is not a visible presence in the Middle East. Whoever put out the contract or talked about it was, obviously, not connected to the Sri Lankan situation. It was somebody with more global concerns who needed a mercenary or terrorist group to do his dirty work for him.

The situation is further complicated by the Chandra Swami factor. Like most people, I was openly sceptical when assorted shady characters turned up to testify before the Commission that they thought Chandra Swami had done it. And despite the Middle-Eastern rumours I have always been unwilling to buy the thesis that the Swami and Adnan Khashoggi were involved in the conspiracy.

But new evidence suggests that the Swami and his friends do have a case to answer. A US Senate subcommittee investigating the crash of fraudulent Pakistani bank BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) found that both Khashoggi and Ernie Miller -- a well known Chandra Swami associate who was involved in the Lakhubhai Pathak case -- had accounts with the London and Paris branches of BCCI. Significantly, several million dollars were transferred from these accounts to the LTTE.

Why did they need to pay off the LTTE? Normally, it would have been the LTTE that paid an arms dealer like Khashoggi for weaponry. Why on earth would Khashoggi and Chandra Swami's right-hand man need to send millions of dollars to the Tigers?

It is possible that there is an explanation for these payments. It is also entirely possible that Khashoggi and Miller acted without Chandra Swami's connivance. But it is the duty of any investigation into the assassination to secure these explanations.

But until recently, this has not been possible. When Rajiv was assassinated, Chandra Swami was best friends with Subramanian Swamy, the then law minister. Later, he was the Rasputin of Race Course Road where his friend Narasimha Rao reigned. In such circumstances, it was almost impossible to launch any comprehensive investigation of the Swami.

It is nobody's case that Justice M C Jain is the best man to investigate the assassination. Equally, it is hard to deny that the Commission has sometimes resembled a circus or that Jain has taken too long to submit even an interim report.

But that is not the point.

That the Commission has produced a report at all is a miracle in itself. Successive governments have treated it with contempt or have even tried to shut it down. When Sonia Gandhi protested, the political establishment treated her like a hysterical woman who was obsessed with her husband's murder to the exclusion of everything else.

Nobody seemed to realise that Rajiv Gandhi was not murdered because he was Sonia Gandhi's husband. He was murdered because he had been prime minister of India and seemed likely to get the job again. As Indians, we should have been as concerned with finding his real assassins as his family was.

But despite the current uproar, we seem to have no desire to seek the truth. We are content to use the assassination enquiry for political ends and treat any attempt to unearth the conspiracy as a doomed exercise.

What this means, in effect, is that anybody can kill the prime minister of India and get away with it. Because we don't care enough to track them down.

What does this say about us as a people?

Vir Sanghvi

Tell us what you think of this column