The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

Book Review
The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi
By Neena Gopal
It took quarter of a century for celebrated international journalist Neena Gopal , with 12 years of experience, by her reckoning, already under her belt at the time of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ,to come out with a book on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
One expected Neena Gopal, currently the Editor of Deccan Chronicle in Bangalore, who happened to be one of the only two journalists, accompanying Rajiv Gandhi to Sriperumbudur (the other one being Barbara Crossette from New York Times) to come out with some startling, explosive, hitherto unknown revelations on the former Prime Minister’s assassination, specially so when the prestigious international house of Publishing the Penguins chose to publish her latest book: The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.”
One expected Neena Gopal privy to so much inside information to tell us what was there in the video cassette which her uncle and the then IB chief M K Narayanan initially mentioned but which it seems was subsequently erased, going by Justice J S Verma’s observations in his report. What was that sensitive bit of information in that video cassette and at whose instance it was damaged. We expected Neena Gopal to tell us why these two women journalists chose to stay back despite Rajiv’s invitation when he went to address the public meeting at that venue, rather unusual for a reporter of any standing.We expected Neena to enlighten us why and at whose instance proper and adequate security was denied to Rajiv. We are curious to know why her uncle Narayanan waited till the day before (a public holiday) to write to the Home ministry to increase Rajiv’s security. It seemed as if Narayanan like many others was fully aware of the hatching of the conspiracy and felt helpless before the powers that be and put the demand for Rajiv’s security on paper a day before his assassination even though it happened to be a public holiday, just to save his skin.
She fails to tell us for instance why did that one-eyed jack, the main conspirator Sivarasan not flee back to Jaffna in a boat in the dark of the night immediately after successfully accomplishing his assigned task of killing Rajiv, before the Tamil Nadu police could put its act together. He did this barely a year earlier when he and his associates gunned down EPRLF leader K Pathmanabha and others in a crowded suburb of Chennai at dusk and fled to seashore. Hid there for a day and the next night sailed off on speed boats to Jaffna. Kaarthikeyan said he discovered about this only after Rajiv’s assassination. Imagine, if Sivarasan had fled to Jaffna who would get to know who killed Rajiv?
Does it make sense that on the one hand Prabhakaran would make a special effort to get the whole killing of Rajiv photographed and on the other deny the LTTE involvement, which by any standards was perhaps the biggest achievement for the Tigers?
She glosses over the past association of Sivarasan with TELO and makes no mention that Sivarasan was an employee of the Sinhala Sri Lankan government electricity department and therefore could be playing a double game. However though inadvertently she discloses that perhaps the real task Prabhakaran assigned to Sivarasan in India was to liquidate Annamalai Vardraja Perumal the first chief minister of Sri Lanka’s North Eastern province and leader of the EPRLF. Which means that the real assignment of killing Rajiv might have been handed over to him by someone else, some insider here in India, most likely in Delhi, where Sivarasan was heading and not in Jafffna.
It is bewildering why it took so long for her to break her silence when she had unhindered access to the powers that be in the Intelligence and rather the entire security establishment of the country at the time of Rajiv’s assassination, what with uncle Narayanan being the IB chief then and later India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) for some six years. Additionally she proudly mentions her easy and unrestricted approach to 10 Janpath as well. Ordinarily one would have expected a hot shot international reporter jet flying all over the world to come out with a book on Rajiv’s assassination if not within months at least in a year or two’s time, not a quarter of century later.
And to make matters worse she has simply rehashed and peddled the same old thesis beaten to death by all the IB/CBI official and undeclared proxies from D R Kaarthikeyan to Subramanian Swamy to K Ragothaman to some half a dozen other writers, all insisting that the Congress party under Rajiv Gandhi was going to sweep the 1991 general elections and he would have sent back the Indian Army or that is what the LTTE chief Prabhakaran feared and so he got Rajiv Gandhi assassinated.
The worst part is from Swamy to Neena Gopal to others, everyone relies on the courts without giving any thought to the basic fallacy that even if Rajiv Gandhi had returned to power and there is a big if there, there is no way he could have sent in Indian army back into Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and any unilateral attempt would amount to aggression on a sovereign nation.
All these analysts ignore the fact that the IPKF went to Sri Lanka under an Indo-Sri Lanka accord signed by Rajiv Gandhi and the then Sri Lankan President Julius Jayawardene. Rajiv had sent in his forces to broker peace there and thereafter supervise free and fair elections in Sri Lanka in which Tamil population in North and Eastern parts of the Island could participate without any fear of Sinhala subterfuge and deceit denying the Tamils their rights.
Not just that, much against his wishes, for he believed the task was still incomplete, it was Rajiv who eventually signed the accord with Jayawardene’s successor Premadasa for the withdrawal of IPKF from Jaffna because Premadasa virtually served an ultimatum on Rajiv to get out of Sri Lanka.
Now Prabhakaran had to be the biggest fool going around the world to imagine that if at all Rajiv returned to power, he would dispatch his troops again to fulfill some personal agenda. Two as Neena and her ilk have trotted out oft times, Tamil Nadu was a safe haven for most Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tigers, Prabhakaran included and the LTTE supremo was no babe in the woods not to foresee the consequence of burning his boats with India by killing Rajiv Gandhi. One has to be real thick headed to pursue this line of thinking or else there is a deliberate design to obfuscate facts and Neena has only added to the numbers of those who are determined not to let the truth out about the real killers of Rajiv Gandhi.
Of course as the later day results of the 1991 elections held in the midst of Mandal-Mandir raging controversy, proved there was no way the Congress could reach anywhere close to power, had poor Rajiv not been made the proverbial sacrificial lamb.
Neena’s book is largely about her visits to Sri Lanka first in 2009 and then in 2015, just last year and what changes she had witnessed in the Tamil dominated Jaffna and other adjoining Tamil areas. That information is valuable and therefore perhaps she needed not just to focus on that but also titled the book differently, in which case there would be no criticism of this book.
Faraz Ahmad


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