Rajiv Gandhi assassination case rages on
N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras
The accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, who are being
heard at the Poonamallee jail-court complex near here, are likely
to summon advocate R N Mittal, appearing for the Congress before
the Jain Commission, as a witness.
Though no decision has been taken, the defence team is reportedly
studying the Jain Commission proceedings to see if Mittal or any
witness before the commission could be summoned to Poonamallee,
to be of any value to the accused in the criminal case.
The reported defence approach follows Mittal's recent submission
before the commission that Chandra Swami
might have been party to the conspiracy behind the assassination.
A similar charge had been made before the commission earlier by
Congress activist Sewa Das and the defence team at Poonamallee
is also studying his deposition to evaluate the intrinsic evidence
value for the accused.
The idea, it seems, is to argue that the Special Investigation
Team that probed the criminal case before the Poonamallee special
court of Judge V Navaneetham, has "not done a complete"
job. "The SIT has submitted that the accused alone were party
to the conspiracy. But the Jain Commission proceedings show that
there might have been others, too. We would like to get to the
bottom of it all, "says a source close to the defence team".
This is a marked departure from the earlier defence perception
that summoning those appearing before the Jain Commission would
not serve the immediate purpose of their clients. As the Jain
panel was probing only the larger conspiracy angle, there was
no substance before it to distance the accused at Poonamallee
from the assassination. Or so went the logic.
The defence is expected to finalise its strategy in this respect
in the coming months as the task of examining the long list of
prosecution witnesses is winding towards and end.
The prosecution had presented a list of about 1,100 witnesses,
of which less than 300 alone were pressed. This process is in
the final stages.
The defence team is also reportedly hopeful of the Jain Commission
completing its proceedings and finalising its report on an early
date, according to sources. Arguments at the end of the examination
of witnesses have commenced before the commission, and an early
availability of the Jain report could lead to new twists in the
criminal case at Poonamallee, they hope.
Other informed sources are not so sure. As they point out, the
Supreme Court has held in the Indira Gandhi assassination case
that the proceedings before a commission of inquiry would have
no binding on a criminal case.
While a judicial commission of inquiry evaluates an evidence in
terms of probability, for a criminal case to stick under the Evidence
Act, a great measure of possibility should be proved.
For the same reason, it is said, the SIT has not followed up on
the Jain Commission proceedings. For the SIT to proceed further
in this regard, it would require the filing of fresh first information
reports, and further investigations.
But sources claim that no substantial material has emanated from
the Jain Commission proceedings for the SIT to take any legal
cognisance, to take it before the court for seeking further directives
on investigations or prosecution.
"And no one has said anything that may counter the SITs case
against the accused at Poonamallee," adds a source.
According to this sources, introducing the 'Chandraswami angle'
may after all be a part of the internal politics ranging within
the Congress. "It may be a part of a larger scheme to embarrass
former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, whom Chandraswami used
to be close," says the source.
But even he does not have an explanation why then was the godman
sought to be involved in the Jain panel proceedings when Narasimha
Rao's political stars were still very much high.
Whatever that be, the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case may take
at least up to the yearend to cross the trial stage, making it
the longest assassination trial in the country.
Though the chargesheet was filed on May 20, 1992, exactly a year
after the assassination, various technical points raised by the
accused and taken up to the higher courts at times had the effect
of delaying the commencement of the trial paper.
It has also become the first assassination trial to be tried by
two different judges, the earlier judge, S M Siddick having been
elevated to the Madras high court bench late last year.