Justice K T Thomas debunks Rajiv Gandhi assassination case
Accuses CBI of fudging to save Chandraswami
By Faraz Ahmad
Eighteen years after handing down death sentence to four persons and life imprisonment to another three in the high profile Rajiv Gandhi assassination case Justice K T Thomas, who presided over that three member Supreme Court bench, and six months after godman Chandraswami died a natural death, now blames the “Indian criminal justice system” for not probing the role of that one-time Rasputin in the courts of two Prime Ministers of India, P V Narasimha Rao and Chandra Shekhar and a close friend of the third, namely Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Several years after retiring from judicial service Thomas’ conscience suddenly pricked and to undo the damage done to the accused in this case, whom he now considers victims of a larger conspiracy, he has gone public pleading with Rajiv’s widow and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to put her might behind getting all seven languishing in a Tamil Nadu jail, to be released.
His letter apart, the more revealing is his admission that he saw even then “serious flaws” in the investigations carried out by the Special Investigative Team (SIT) of India’s premier investigating agency the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI). In his interview with a leading English daily, after posting the letter, Thomas states that there were “serious flaws” in the CBI investigations, in particular related to the 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.”
Justice Thomas also mentioned an interview of one of those convicted in that case which appeared soon after this judgment in The Week magazine and stated, “He claimed that the Rs 40 lakh was paid by none other than Chandraswami, but was warned by an officer to not talk about the godman…I strongly feel that the failure of the Indian criminal system in probing the role of Chandraswami (who died on May 23, earlier this year) is an unpardonable flaw in the Indian criminal justice system.” Thomas is apparently referring to Ranganath who had owned the house in Bangalore in which Sivarasan was gunned down by the SIT. Ranganath was convicted for being an accomplice and harbouring the criminals. He was also the only living outsider, apart from the main accused, who had interacted with Sivarasan regularly till his death.
Thomas now claims that he was “agitated” during the trial over the “serious flaws” by the SIT especially when the agency feigned ignorance about the source of Rs 40 lakh seized from the accused. “The main accused were all from Sri Lanka. I told the solicitor general Altaf Ahmed that I can understand a few Sri Lankan currency but Rs 40 lakh was such a huge amount in that period. That means there were financially powerful forces behind those who were arrested. I asked him whether he investigated the origin of that cash. After a brief chat with the investigation chief D R Karthikeyan, he sought time to reply. The next day Ahmed told the court that the investigators couldn’t find the source of the cash,” Justice Thomas discloses.
Additionally he also questioned the conviction on evidence provided by the CBI and said, “Under the conventional Evidence Act, a confession can be used only as corroborative piece of evidence…” But in this case he said that since his two other colleagues on the bench Justice D P Wadhwa and Justice Shah Mohammd Quadri prevailed upon him, he finally relented in view of the existing Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) Act. A G Perarivalan one of those served a death sentence by Thomas’ bench ostensibly for purchasing from the market a 9 volt battery which was used to detonate the bomb on Dhanu’s person which killed Rajiv Gandhi and 18 others, has all along been pleading that he had no personal knowledge of the purpose of this battery and was not privy to the actual conspiracy. But a confessional statement was extracted from him apparently under duress as with all the other accused and all of them sentenced on these statements being held as prime evidence. This is at complete variance to the Indian Evidence Act, which accepts a confessional statement of the accused only as corroborative evidence and without any primary evidence is not acceptable.
So Thomas now tells us that, “I was upset over these serious flaws and shared my concern with the two others on the bench. They suggested we shouldn’t criticize the CBI in the final order considering their efforts. Then I suggested a condition: no criticism or kudos for the CBI in the final order. They agreed. After drafting the final order we exchanged the drafts for reading. But on the day of the judgment I was shocked to hear Justice D P Wadhwa’s judgment praising CBI officer Karthikeyan whole-heartedly. That made headlines sending out a message that the Supreme Court was fully happy with the probe.”
“Since I was the senior judge he (Wadhwa) read out his draft only after mine. If I knew I would have corrected mine too to stand by my observations.”
Strangely all these years Justice Thomas kept his counsel and would not disclose how the Special Investigation Team (SIT) specially constituted by none other than our present day enfant terrible Subramanian Swamy deliberately willfully botched up the case to earn kudos for having convicted the so-called Rajiv Gandhi killers within no time and instead of chiding the CBI and Karthiekyan, Thomas too joined his two other honourable judges along with the CBI, in the exercise of keeping the real conspiracy under wrap.
He did not utter a word to date of the Rs 40 lakh, discovered o the person of the dead Sivarasan the chief conspirator. Only now, so many months after Chandraswami is dead, he suggests that this money seemed to have been part of perhaps the advance payment made to Sivarasan to eliminate Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu.
He wants Sonia Gandhi and her two children to be magnanimous and I do support him on that. But would he care to answer why he woke up to their plight so late in the day?
In my book titled, ‘Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: An Inside Job,’ I had convincingly argued how the entire CBI thesis of Rajiv being killed out of fear in the LTTE of his return to power or as a revenge for the IPKF operation in Sri Lanka, was bogus and without any basis. Besides I had also pointed out with evidence that Sivarasan the chief conspirator was quite capable of contract killing and therefore such a possibility appeared more plausible. In this context I had mentioned the role of Chandraswamy.
That there was considerable circumstantial evidence to suspect Chandraswami, was evident from the fact that the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led not by Sonia Gandhi but Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy PM L K Advani constituted a Multi Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) to probe the godman’s role. Chandraswami is dead and gone. But the MDMA still exists and God knows what has it done in the 17 years of its existence spending the precious money of the Indian tax payer.
But the only thing it did in all these years is to thwart all attempts of this one time all powerful godman to flee the country and go abroad maintaining in the courts that his role in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case is being probed.