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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.

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