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Commentary/ Mani Shankar Aiyar

P Chidambaram and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

P Chidambaram Readers will recall -- and the victim, I trust, will never forget -- my article exposing the hypocrisy and worse of Chidambaram's tie-up with the very forces he had so roundly condemned for their involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. I ended the piece deploring his fall from moral grace but paying tribute to his 'technical brilliance'. Having spent most of the last three months following the proceedings of the Jain Commission, I am no longer sure I was justified in thinking he had so won his spurs in the various ministerial offices he held in successive Congress governments as to qualify for the sobriquet of 'brilliance'.

His deposition over four sessions in the witness-box has shown him up to have been a most incompetent minister of state for internal security (1986-89) and most negligent as minister in charge of the investigation into Rajiv Gandhi's assassination from May 24, 1995, till his defection to the TMC on April Fool's Day, 1996.

The Special Protection Group was established by executive order on the first day of April 1985. It was governed by the ordinary laws of the land but was given a mandate, powers, recruitment methods, training, equipment and other facilities unprecedented in the annals of India's security services.

This was to meet the unprecedented contingency of protecting the son of an assassinated prime minister who continued to be the target of the very terrorists who had eliminated his mother, the threat to him having become more acute after he won from the people, in a free and democratic election, the largest plurality in the history of Indian democracy. At the time, Chidambaram was a first-term backbencher.

Chidambaram's moment came on Gandhi Jayanti 1986, when the Delhi police fell flat on their face in preventing an assassination bid at Rajghat which, if it had succeeded, would have eliminated both the prime minister and the President of the country from the barrel of a single gun. The prevent a recurrence of the catastrophic consequences for the country of any repetition of such negligence, Rajiv Gandhi looked around him and decided to put two rising stars, of the political and civil services firmaments respectively, in charge of tightening security.

The two stars he picked have in the past decade exploded into milky ways of their own in the universe of Indian politics: P Chidambaram as minister of internal security and T N Seshan as secretary, internal security.

Chidambaram, as befits a barrister of some standing, took upon himself the task of drafting a law to cover the SPG. For over three years, the SPG had functioned on the basis of an executive order that gave it the greatest latitude. The SPG Act, which Chidambaram piloted through Parliament in May 1988, gave the SPG juridical definition but also circumscribed the ambit of its activity.

Rajiv Gandhi Principally, a crack police force, which had been formed for the protection of an individual threatened by special circumstances, was redefined by the new law as available to anyone who held the office of prime minister, irrespective of whether the incumbent faced the same level of threat as Rajiv Gandhi and irrespective of whether similar protection would be available to Rajiv Gandhi, or any other Indian similarly placed.

Instead of the SPG being a specific security response to a specific threat perception, the SPG was converted by Chidambaram's Act into an institution of State, attached to an office-holder and debarred by law from extension to a person other than the office-holder. Had Chidambaram's legislative provisions not replaced the three-year-old executive order, there would have been no legal difficulty in extending SPG cover to Rajiv Gandhi even after he ceased being prime minister.


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