MAGAZINE Voices Pushpesh Pant S Vaidhyasubramaniam Ravi Shankar Shilpi Madan Amar Bhushan Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI JUNE 26 2022 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally in May 1991 Exclusive Excerpts Anatomy of an Assassination A meticulous account of how a LTTE death squad murdered former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the SIT’s deadly cat-and-mouse game that brought the killers to justice T he Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) called Vijay Karan back after five days in Colombo. The CBI head stopped in Madras on his way back to Delhi. (Radhavinod) Raju, (Amod) Kanth, Sri Kumar, (Amit) Verma and (K) Ragothaman were present at the airport for a closed-door meeting with him. Sources in Colombo had already confirmed that the kurta-pyjama clad man had only one eye and his name was Packiaraj, one of his many aliases. Karan briefed his officers on everything he had been able to gather in Colombo, and they, in turn, reported their progress in detail. There was no new information except what the SIT had already learnt about the kurta-pyjama man—that he was an LTTE operative who was one-eyed and known as Sivaraja Master with possible aliases such as Sivarasan, Sivarajan and Packiaraj. But that was yet to be confirmed. The flight was waiting for Karan as the rest of the passengers were already on board. Nalini and Murugan’s photographs were passed around. A team of more than a hundred officers, policemen, Cobra commandos and Black Cat commandos stood outside the SIT office building. At the helm of the briefing was Kaarthikeyan. In a booming voice, he addressed his men to boost their morale and wished them luck. The SIT boss said, ‘First thing, we have to catch them alive. No bullets to be shot as you will be looking for them in crowded places. A bystander’s safety is important. None of you will be in uniform, so mixing with the crowd will be easy Be very discreet in . all your wireless communication. Is that clear?’ ‘Clear,’ the men chanted in unison. ‘Best of luck. Let’s go and get them,’ said Kaarthikeyan with conviction. A couple had just alighted from a bus. There were very few other passengers with them. The wireless said, ‘Near the main exit, near the main exit... a male and a female... Male has head covered... Male has head covered in towel... Over.’ Ravindran wasted no time in approaching the couple, who were near the main exit by then. Verma was inches behind Ravindran. ‘Watch out... they may be carrying grenades... I will tackle Murugan and my boys the lady You stay behind,’ . Ravindran told Verma. Ravindran picked up pace, and his plainclothes commandos followed suit. The Black Cats stationed inside the compound scaled the walls, landed on the road outside the depot and quietly encircled the duo headed towards the autorickshaw stand. Ravindran was right behind the man. Seeing one of his commandos quietly walking next to Nalini, Ravindran signalled with a nod. In a fraction of a second, the commandos pounced upon Nalini, and Ravindran caught hold of the towel covering Murugan’s head and pulled it over his face to avoid him taking a cyanide pill. Murugan struggled at first and then reached for Ravindran’s throat. But Ravindran wound the towel tighter, incapacitating him. Verma watched the Black Cats put Nalini into a car. A few metres away, Murugan managed to grab Ravindran’s pistol and held the muzzle against his abdomen while Ravindran used his arms to restrain Murugan. Verma turned to Ravindran and found, to his horror, that Murugan had a gun pressed into the abdomen of the NSG captain. Ravindran tightened his chokehold on the towel and whispered into Murugan’s ear, ‘Killing me will not help you escape. My men will catch you and roast you, because your ticket to martyrdom— the cyanide capsule—is in my hand.’ There was silence in the room after Murugan was done talking. It exposed how porous India’s borders and its security system were. Murugan said that at that point, Sivarasan was set to execute his leader’s directive—the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi having talks with LTTE supremo V Prabhakaran Likewise, the sudden discovery of a taped telephone conversation between Prabhakaran and his political adviser Anton Balasingham sent shockwaves through the security agencies. In the conversation, Prabhakaran is heard telling Balasingham that Rajiv Gandhi should be ‘fixed’ once he (Prabhakaran) gets off Indian soil. After a while, both Payas and Jayakumar revealed that the LTTE’s intelligence chief Pottu Amman had a plan B in case his plan in Madras failed. Then the place of strike would be Delhi. Pottu Amman had sent another human bomb—Sonia alias Athirai alias Akila— along with an old man, Kanagasabapathy, posing as her grandfather to the Indian capital. The next step for Ragothaman was to make Athirai and Kanagasabapathy sit face to face with Jayakumar and Payas. With an increase in the number of the subjects, Ragothaman had asked Verma to join in. Eventually, the four confessed to their roles in the grand operation of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Payas and Jayakumar told the SIT what they knew about plan B. Sivarasan had devised a plan to infiltrate a travel agency named M/s President Travel Services in the capital that was run by V Kalyanasundaram. He was related to a senior Congress politician and a close aide of Rajiv Gandhi. When Anirudhya heard the name of the Congress politician, he ran a quick check on the travel agency through India Today’s Turn to page 2 Delhi office. Kalyanasundaram denied any links with Sivarasan or the LTTE, but various media reports indicated that the LTTE had got his contact details from Kalyanasundaram’s uncle, Jagadeesan, a retired army man who ran a rice mill in Thopputhurai. When contacted, the Congress politician categorically denied any knowledge that ‘President Travels’ had links with the LTTE and said he had never used the agency for any of his or his family’s travels. Was the SIT being misled again? Knowing how the LTTE would have used the lead, the SIT questioned Payas and Jayakumar on whether they had used Maragatham Chandrasekar, the Congress candidate from Sriperumbudur, to get Dhanu close to Rajiv? There were reports of Latha Kannan and Kokila, who were seen flanking Dhanu in Haribabu’s picture, getting their VIP passes to greet Rajiv through Chandrasekar’s daughter Latha Priya Kumar, also a Congress worker. However, with both Kokila and Latha dead, the reports could not be verified. Both Payas and Jayakumar claimed they Turn to page 2
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