Rs 40 lakh, a godman and his aide: Unanswered questions of Rajiv Gandhi assassination

There are several unanswered questions, but let’s begin with the ‘Rs 40 lakh seizure’ that the retired SC judge has now raised.
Rs 40 lakh, a godman and his aide: Unanswered questions of Rajiv Gandhi assassination
Rs 40 lakh, a godman and his aide: Unanswered questions of Rajiv Gandhi assassination
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Recently, Justice KT Thomas, one of the three Supreme Court judges who in 1999 convicted the seven conspirators linked to the LTTE for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, cast yet another doubt over the investigation of the case, and the judicial process which followed. He stated that there were “serious flaws by the CBI” in its probe.

In a letter to Rajiv’s widow and the Congress party matriarch Sonia Gandhi, Justice Thomas asked her to recommend a pardon for the convicts. But what raised eyebrows was what he called “the mystery of the alleged seizure of Rs 40 lakh” in cash from the convicts, which led him to believe that the probe exposed “an unpardonable flaw” in the Indian criminal justice system. He has made this claim in media interviews.

This is not the first time that the CBI’s probe into the assassination case is being questioned. Over the years, from LTTE sympathisers to senior politicians in Tamil Nadu, many have cast aspersions over the probe, some even calling it outright conjecture.

But to this day, some aspects of the case and the events leading up to the fatal bomb blast remain unexplained, which is why a Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA), appointed by the CBI in August 1998, is still investigating the events – 26 years after LTTE operative Dhanu walked up to Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide bomb vest and blew him to pieces.

There are several unanswered questions, but let’s begin with the ‘Rs 40 lakh seizure’ that the retired SC judge has now raised. Was that huge amount cash of really confiscated from the convicts?

The seizure that wasn’t?

No, says K Ragothaman, the Chief Investigation officer of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the CBI to investigate the case. Emphatically rejecting the claim made by Justice Thomas, Ragothaman asserts that there was no seizure of Rs 40 lakh from the convicts and that such an allegation never formed part of the court proceedings. “The alleged seizure was not even claimed by the defence either during the trial court or Supreme Court proceedings,” Ragothaman tells TNM, adding, “CBI investigation was not flawed and was hailed by all concerned as a commendable piece of investigation, though it was considered a blind case.”

Noting that Justice Thomas had made his allegation mainly on the alleged seizure of Rs 40 lakh, which did not exist, Ragothaman gives a detailed explanation of the amounts recovered from various places during arrests of the convicts.

Sivarasan – the mastermind who plotted the assassination – in his diary recovered by the CBI from the Konanakunte hide-out in Bengaluru, had merely mentioned that he had raised Rs 17 lakh for the assassination expenses by selling gold biscuits brought from Sri Lanka (apparently handed over to him by Prabhakaran). The Sivarasan diary, the testimony of the accused in the case never mentioned that Chandraswami had financed the assassination.

Ragothaman said most of the financial operations by Prabakaran and the LTTE were in gold, smuggled in by boat from Lanka to Tamil Nadu. The gold biscuits, wrapped around one’s waist, would be sold in Tamil Nadu markets to raise cash. A Sri Lankan Tamil, Thambi Anna, one of the accused in the case, had facilitated the exchange in Tamil Nadu.

On the cash seizures, Ragothaman says that a total of Rs 20,070 was recovered from the Konanakunte residence in Bengaluru, including Rs 5,270 from the body of Suresh Master and Rs 625 from another deceased, Amman.

Two gold biscuits were found in the possession of Ravichandran, weighing ten tolas each, and these were also seized by the SIT and produced before the court. In almost all the other places where the SIT conducted searches or made arrests, there was only negligible amounts like Rs 5,000 or Rs 10,000 which were found, and therefore the SIT did not seize these amounts, he says.

“There was no other case of cash seizure apart from the amount mentioned above,” Ragothaman says. “When such was the case, Justice Thomas should specify as to from where he came upon this amount of Rs 40 lakh that he has claimed was seized,” he adds.

The chief of the SIT, DR Karthikeyan had also told the Jain Commission (replying to a question) that Ranganath, the accused who had helped the LTTE with the hideout in Karnataka, had never mentioned to him anything about seizure of Rs 40 lakh from the convicts as claimed. This was clearly an after-thought on the part of the defence, Ragothaman said.

Some sections of the defence were now trying to create red herrings in an attempt to divert attention from the LTTE involvement in the case, Ragothaman said, adding that even if fingers were pointed at others, it would not exonerate the accused in the case whose involvement in the assassination crime had been proved beyond any doubt. They had been rightly punished in the case, Ragothaman maintained.

Godman and his aide

However, this claim apart, there are other questions which even Ragothaman refuses to answer. What exactly was the involvement of godman Chandraswami? Ragothaman declined to go into the issue, stating that it was the role of the MDMA to look into it. “The SIT had a limited role relating to the actual assassination and that the conspiracy angle was left to the Jain Commission,” he says.

Chandraswami’s aide RK Jain, who had fallen out with the guru, had told the Jain Commission that the godman was behind the assassination, and that he had deposited funds in the Bank of Credit and Commerce account of the LTTE a large sum for the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

RK Jain also claimed that the belt bomb, which was used to kill Rajiv Gandhi, was placed before the deity of Hanuman Vatika in Connaught Place by Chandraswami to invoke the Lord’s blessings for the operation.

Warnings ignored?

The political connections of the godman added to the suspicion. Chandraswami was said to be close to former Prime Minister Chandrasekhar. The Chandrashekhar government fell when Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi decided to withdraw support to it. Chandrashekhar was asked to be the caretaker Prime Minister till a new, popular government took over at the Centre.

Did Chandrashekhar look the other way despite warnings from Yasser Arafat about a plot to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, and the clear danger from the LTTE? The Jain Commission report gave considerable importance to Arafat’s warning.

Was the refusal of the earlier VP Singh government and the Chandrashekhar government to continue the SPG cover for Rajiv Gandhi, vital in the end?

These questions remain, and may go unanswered forever.

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