|November 17, 1997|
JAIN COMMISSION REVELATIONS
By Prabhu Chawla
Quite unknown to it, the United Front (UF) Government has been living on borrowed time since Justice Milap Chand Jain ceremonially presented his 17-volume interim report on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination to Home Minister Indrajit Gupta on August 28. The commission had been asked to look into the circumstances of and the conspiracy leading to Rajiv's murder.
Jain's findings are not unexpected, but their explosive confirmation threatens to trigger a chain reaction that could shatter reputations, forge realignments and even bring down the fragile government of Inder Kumar Gujral.
In the corridors of power, the Jain report on the May 21, 1991, assassination in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, is already causing convulsions. When it came up for discussion in the Cabinet after it was presented, no minister was willing to take a stand on it. To be precise, all of them wanted to defer discussion indefinitely. Even Gupta decided to wash his hands off this incendiary device by suggesting that the Cabinet refer the report to a committee of secretaries, drawn from the ministries of home, defence, external affairs and the Research and Analysis Wing, for study. Though Gupta has put up a brave front with assurances that the report will be tabled in Parliament on November 19, the first day of the winter session, his advice to Gujral was simple: stall or prepare to depart.
The prime minister can instinctively hear the time bomb ticking away, a reason why the report has not figured on the agenda of UF Steering Committee meetings. The 5,280 page report, comprising eight volumes of interim findings and nine volumes of annexures bound in black rexine, holds Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and his DMK responsible for abetting Rajiv Gandhi's murderers. Also blamed are two former prime ministers, V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar, for their laxity in assessing the threat to Rajiv.
The report has made uncharitable remarks about Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, criticising him for supping with the devil in the cause of political expediency. "I am fully satisfied with my interim report and what it contains." said Jain, "Each one of my conclusions and observations is based on documents on record with the commission."
Jain took over 66 months to submit his first report, after examining 110 witnesses, including political luminaries, bureaucrats, terrorists and cranks with incredible conspiracy theories. Based on the deposition of what it calls key and credible witnesses, the report singles out the DMK for its severest indictment. The report is replete with examples of the DMK's proximity to the leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), whose cadres killed Rajiv. While conceding that both the Congress government at the Centre and M.G. Ramachandran's AIADMK government in the state were responsible for the initial impetus to Tamil militancy, Jain holds the DMK guilty of encouraging and assisting the LTTE even after the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987 pitted the Indian Army against the Tigers.
"Under the changed scenario, the LTTE made a strategic shift in their political alignments," says the report. "They sent personal emissaries to Karunanidhi for seeking his active support in their battle against the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). These overtures of the LTTE towards the DMK started a chain of events which led to LTTE's survival and growth in Tamil Nadu even after the attitude of the Government of India had changed towards the LTTE after the hostilities between the IPKF and LTTE in Sri Lanka.'' The Jain report also concludes that the LTTE "was getting its supplies, including arms, ammunition, explosives, fuel and other essential items for its war against the IPKF from Tamil Nadu. That too with the support of the Tamil Nadu government and the connivance of the law enforcement authorities".
The report emphasises the political antagonism between the DMK government in the state and the Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre. Karunanidhi took over as chief minister in January 1989 after his party's decisive victory over the Congress and the AIADMK. According to the report, 1989 signified "the perpetuation of the general political trend of indulging the Tamil militants on Indian soil and tolerance of their wide-ranging criminal and anti-national activities ... LTTE activities of arms smuggling, abduction of Indian citizens and officials and intimidation of the law enforcement machinery were tolerated". Citing the brutal murder of EPRLF leader K. Padmanabha, along with 15 others in Madras on June 19, 1990, Jain has resurrected memories of "the impunity with which the LTTE could operate in India".
The commission has quoted two reports of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) that speak of Karunanidhi not being averse to the elimination of EPRLF leaders by LTTE hit squads. These reports, filed on June 28, 1990 (nine days after Padmanabha's murder) referred to "the chief minister informing Natesan (an LTTE activist) to provide advance information regarding LTTE movements and also sought details of locations of LTTE hideouts to direct the police to keep away from such places". The IB also recorded the "opinion expressed by the chief minister regarding Padmanabha being a betrayer". Another report quoted by Jain claims the "chief minister also told Natesan that killing of Padmanabha was a necessity and so also of Vardaraja Perumal and that Natesan should ensure that he (Karunanidhi) was taken into confidence before such acts are committed". The commission has also recorded the evidence of former state home secretary R. Nagarajan, which further indicts Karunanidhi: "Nagarajan has deposed that the DGP informed him that the chief minister has asked him (DGP) that the police need not evince keen interest to trace out the culprits in the Padmanabha massacre till his arrival the next day for further instructions from him." To drive home the point, the commission has quoted extensively from Chidambaram's speech to the Lok Sabha on February 25, 1991, in which he claimed that the movement of senior eprlf leaders "was conveyed by the state police to the LTTE". Padmanabha's killing is important because it was the same hit squad that was later deployed to eliminate Rajiv.
If that isn't enough to damage Karunanidhi, the commission has quoted other documents and various statements given to it by former LTTE activists. For example, Kasi Anandan, a senior member of the 10-member central committee of the LTTE's political wing, admitted in his deposition on September 11, 1996, that "the LTTE had very friendly relations with Karunanidhi. In the days of Karunanidhi as CM, movement of LTTE was more free. Local administration was also friendly in Tamil Nadu". Anandan even disclosed that the "LTTE was able to communicate from Jaffna to Tamil Nadu when the V.P. Singh government was at the Centre and the Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu."
Jain has recorded vivid details of the LTTE's free access to Karunanidhi and key state government officials. Anandan revealed that he, along with another LTTE leaders, used to meet Karunanidhi in strict privacy: "I have met Karunanidhi several times alone and once or twice with Natesan." Neither the Tamil Nadu government nor the Centre had any clue as to what transpired in these meetings.
Further, Jain records that Karunanidhi and top state officials were directly involved in getting many LTTE cadres released from police custody. The interim report contains an IB account of the interference during the raid on a LTTE hideout on November 30, 1990. At least two key LTTE cadres, Kiruban and Anandan, were let off due to instructions from above: "A posse of policemen converged on the Thillai Nagar hideout of LTTE in Tiruchirappalli in the early hours of today (Nov.30) and laid siege to the premises that had 19 LTTE cadres including Kiruban and Kasi Anandan, the LTTE representative liaising with the Tamil Nadu Government. The cadres refused to let the police in and issued an ultimatum to the effect that if the siege was not lifted by 12 noon today, all the cadres would consume cyanide and commit suicide."
According to the report, the Madras-based LTTE cadres "tried to contact the Tamil Nadu home secretary and V. Gopalaswamy, DMK member of Rajya Sabha, to convey the message and seek their intervention to settle the matter .... Kumar, the (LTTE) propagandist, managed to meet the chief minister of Tamil Nadu at Anna Arivalayam (DMK party office), Madras. According to Kumar, Karunanidhi expressed inability to intervene since inaction would invite problems for his government .... However, Karunanidhi offered to let out Anandan, the elderly LTTE representative but declined to consider the case of Kiruban, who heads the LTTE set-up in Tamil Nadu."
Other intelligence reports specifically name six important LTTE functionaries who were present in the hideout but were not arrested. These were Kiruban alias Salim (in charge of the Tamil Nadu unit), Menon (in charge of Trichy), Romeo (in charge of Salem), Aruna and Radha (navigators) and Kesavan (in charge of shore operations). The commission didn't consider the IB's report alone but also secured corroborative evidence from other agencies. Says the report, "Let us see whether this version of the IB gets substantiated by the other evidence available before the Commission. Kasi Anandan, who was the key LTTE functionary, was present in the house and was not arrested."
Anandan told the commission on September 10 last year: "In November 1990, I was at Truchi at Thillai Nagar, at the house maintained by Kumar. There was a raid of that house. Some boys were arrested. Kumar, Radhayan, Suresh and about six or seven others were rounded up. I was also rounded up. That house was sealed and we were released ... At that time the government had started arresting LTTE boys. I was released even without protest and I do not know how I was released."
Even Jaffar Ali, the then DIG, CID, in his deposition to the commission on March 10, 1997, stated: "Kasi Anandan alone was released on the instructions of Mr Nagarajan (Tamil Nadu home secretary). When I asked Mr Nagarajan about this, he informed me that Kasi Anandan has been living in Tamil Nadu for so many years and he has not committed any offence. So he has asked for his release. Only Kasi Anandan was released."
The fact that Anandan was released is not disputed by anyone. An impression is created by the different versions that the entire state machinery was, in one way or the other, involved in supporting the LTTE at that time. Evidently, the police was not given a free hand to deal with the LTTE.
Indeed, the Jain Commission report has raised doubts over the DMK's committment to the Centrally-sponsored action plan for handling the LTTE. It has alleged that even coded messages between the Centre and the state government were promptly relayed to the LTTE leaders in Jaffna. "There is evidence to show that, during this period, some of the most vital wireless messages were passed between the LTTE operatives based in Tamil Nadu and Jaffna. These messages, which were decoded later, are directly related to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.''
To substantiate this point, Jain has quoted from a speech by the then prime minister Chandra Shekhar in the Lok Sabha on January 10, 1991. He had said: "Certain information that were just given to the chief minister (Karunanidhi) has gone to the LTTE headquarters not only in Tamil Nadu but even in Jaffna. This is something very serious."
Various intelligence reports in July 1990, recorded by Jain, also suggested that LTTE functionary Kiruban had approached Gopalaswamy and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for providing more landing points to bring in injured Tigers from across the Palk Straits. As Jain records, "The chief minister reportedly suggested a point from Mallipattinam, preferably in the coastal areas of Thondi, as the possible choice for the purpose. Thus, it appears, changes in landing points along the coast were always effected in consultation with DMK leaders."
The commission has also referred to some reports that indicated Karunanidhi was personally instrumental in ensuring things went smoothly for the LTTE. At one stage, when the Tigers were hit by a paucity of funds, Karunanidhi is reported to have suggested floating an organisation called "The Relief Association for Sri Lankan Tamils" to facilitate the diversion of Government funds. LTTE activists Anandan and Natesan were mooted as office-bearers.
Karunanidhi's reckless style alarmed even his political allies. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, home minister in V.P. Singh's regime, cautioned Karunanidhi about the worsening situation in the state. Giving details of the LTTE's growing presence in Tamil Nadu, Mufti reprimanded the chief minister for the DMK's perceived closeness to the LTTE. In a letter dated May 15, 1990, Mufti advised Karunanidhi to issue instructions to "all concerned in the state government that they would take full care to pre-empt the possibility of any impression being created that Tamil militants could deal directly with state government functionaries". Predictably, Karunanidhi wrote back a week later refuting most of the then home minister's apprehensions.
Earlier, V.C. Pande, then cabinet secretary, had been more categorical in his directive to the state government. On April 12, 1990, he wrote a strong letter to then Tamil Nadu chief secretary M.M. Rajendran: "The LTTE appears to have established a fairly elaborate network, apparently without any hindrance, not only in the coastal areas but in the interior areas also." Instead of committing itself to corrective action, the state government threw the ball back into the Centre's court. In his reply to Pande, dated April 25, 1990, Rajendran only said: "Unless we take urgent measures to equip the state police with modern weapons, at least for selected task forces, our efforts may not have the desired effect."
The evidence against the Karunanidhi Government appears to be quite damning, particularly since the commission has been rather dismissive of the DMK's protestations of innocence. Deposing before the commission on January 17 this year, Karunanidhi asserted: "I had supported the LTTE along with other parties, but after the murder of Padmanabha, I withdrew my support." Jain is, however, disinclined to accept this denial: "It cannot be found that after June 19, 1990, the DMK government in Tamil Nadu gave no support to the LTTE."
However, it is curious that Jain has been remarkably selective in his indignation. While at a few places in the report he has reprimanded the Rajiv government at the Centre and its AIADMK ally, M.G. Ramachandran, for the initial softness towards the LTTE, at others he has absolved them of helping the Tigers politically and financially.
In fact, Jain has praised MGR, who once paid Rs 5 crore to the LTTE, for dealing with V.Prabhakaran, the LTTE supremo, decisively. The report says: "An affirmation of the policy of the government of India is seen in a severe reprimand to V. Prabhakaran by MGR, the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, after the SAARC meeting when Prabhakaran was told by him that he should carry out his struggle from his own country if he was not willing to play by our rules."
Not that these apparent double standards are likely to get much prominence in today's charged political climate. The Jain Commission report is calculated to become a political football that could end up unsettling the cosy relationship between Congress President Sitaram Kesri and Prime Minister Gujral. The battle lines have clearly been drawn. Congress Vice-president Jitendra Prasada fired the first salvo on September 17. In a letter, Prasada told the prime minister: "Now that the Jain Commission has submitted its interim report, the country should be taken into confidence. It is all the more necessary to do so in order to ensure that the report does not become a subject of baseless speculations." With an eye on Sonia Gandhi, Prasada managed to get the Congress Working Committee to demand presentation of the report in the next session of Parliament.
Prasada is furious with the casual response he got from both the prime minister and the home minister. While Gujral didn't bother to reply, Gupta wrongly informed him that the report was being processed by the committee of secretaries. Gupta subsequently corrected himself. But an incensed Prasada sent yet another angry missive to the home minister saying, "I feel deeply disturbed at the Government's procrastination in this matter." He also warned Gupta, "I may be forced to take some drastic step because my conscience doesn't permit me to remain a silent and helpless spectator in this matter."
Responding to this, the home minister promptly conveyed the Government's resolve to place Justice Jain's report on the "opening day of the coming session along with an action taken report". Gupta also stressed that "There is no need, in my opinion for you to threaten the Government with 'some drastic steps' in case the report is not tabled".
While Prasada's plan to make an issue of the Jain report can be partly explained by his desire to upstage Kesri within the Congress, the UF's wariness stems from a fear of the havoc the report can cause among its constituents. After the report is made public, it will become untenable for Gujral to retain the DMK in the UF. The Congress, on whose support the UF Government rests, will not countenance this. According to a senior Congress functionary, "It will be totally unethical to support the DMK's participation in the Government if the interim report holds it responsible for causing our leader's death."
Given Sonia Gandhi's divine status in the party, it is certain Congressmen will delight in competitive DMK-bashing, if only to impress 10 Janpath. There is the possibility that G.K. Moopanar's Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) will see the report as an excuse to detach itself from the DMK. Even so, the TMC will have to suffer the embarrassment of Jain's strictures against Chidambaram.
At the same time, it is unlikely that the UF's other constituents will meekly acquiesce to the exclusion of the DMK at the Congress' behest. The forcible exclusion of a constituent will surely be seen as a violation of the federal principles that led to the UF experiment in the first place. If regional groups like the Telugu Desam and the Asom Gana Parishad and the Left parties make an issue of it, it could well signal the end of Gujral's prime ministership -- and of the UF. In upholding the memory of the slain leader, Kesri may find himself forced into an election that neither he nor his party is prepared for.
Despite 12 extensions and the ridicule he suffered, Jain's findings may prove as devastating as the bomb that went off in Sriperumbudur six years ago. But the judge is unfazed by the implications of his findings. "I have done my job to the best of my ability," he says," even under adverse circumstances and non-cooperation. Now, it is for the Government to do whatever it wants to do." That is, if the Government survives the devastation of the Jain explosion.
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