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Friday, December 12 1997

"Uppermost in our minds was to save the Gandhis' name"

Coomi Kapoor

NEW DELHI, Dec 11: Perhaps former Home Minister S B Chavan was smart enough to foresee what the rest of his party couldn't. For he candidly confessed to the Jain Commission why P.V. Narasimha Rao's government had tried to block Justice Jain from going beyond 1987 in exploring the ``sequence of events leading up to the (Rajiv Gandhi's) assassination.''

`` What was uppermost in our mind was to save the name of the Gandhi family,'' he told Justice Jain. In Parliament, Chavan was more vague and talked merely of protecting the interests of a certain family. But in the faction-ridden Congress, the Rao Government's attempt to hide the party's past was construed by rivals like Arjun Singh as a sinister plot to derail the commission.

Once the fat was in the fire, wisdom began to dawn belatedly in the party. Every attempt was made by the Congress to avert a debate on the Jain report in Parliament. The party hoped that with elections around the corner, few would bother to plough through the voluminous documentsrunning into 5,280 pagesproduced by Jain in the last six years.

Because the same report which has been quoted as the Bible by Congressmen keen to brandish their loyalty to Sonia Gandhi and raise a stink on the DMK has buried in its 17 volumes enough ``evidence'' to establish that successive Congress governments under the Gandhis were more culpable than any other administration for aiding and abetting the LTTE.

The in-camera testimony of witnesses before the Commission -- extracts of which are contained in the report -- provide more substantial evidence than ever before of the embarrassing extent to which Indira Gandhi's Government provided military training to Tamils from Sri Lanka.

The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) selected and trained the Sri Lankan Tamils, in the use of modern arms in camps organised in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi and elsewhere. The idea was that the Sri Lankan Tamils after being trained and armed would be sent back to northern Sri Lanka to engage the Sri Lankan troops in guerrilla warfare. It was a top-secret operation. Even the State government was kept in the dark.

RAW hand-picked those to be trained and ignored the LTTE cadres as not being pliable enough. The Intelligence Bureau (IB), waging a turf war with RAW, promptly stepped forward to sponsor the LTTE and intervened to ensure that its cadres got military training. Kasi Anandan, a member of the LTTE, testified, ``Government of India promised us to give training at Dehra Dun.

It was in 1984 when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. There were training camps even in Tamil Nadu at Kulathur near Mettur. About 50 or 60 LTTE boys got training in the first batch at Dehra Dun. Two or three batches after that were also trained. The LTTE also got monetary assistance from the time of Smt Indira Gandhi''.P. Nedumaran, who is LTTE sympathiser, testified: ``RAW started misreporting about the LTTE and it was responsible for the clashes between the different militant groups. RAW was behind the clashes between the LTTE and EPRLF and LTTE and TELO.''

In an enclosure with a letter from the Director General of Police (Intelligence), Tamil Nadu , K. Mohandas, to the then Chief Secretary Tamil Nadu a list and location of the training camps is given. The total strength of LTTE cadres trained was 495, including 90 women. The total number of trainees of Sri Lankan Tamil militants was put at 3,363.

(While it is not mentioned in Jain's interim report, according to intelligence sources Sivarasan, the key conspirator in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, was himself trained at a camp in Nainital.)

Another interesting nugget from the report brings out how in November 1986 MGR, then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, had ordered State police officials to take away the arms and wireless sets of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran, and his political advisor, Anton Balasingham, before flying them to Bangalore by a special IAF aircraft. The then minister of state for home P. Chidambaram was present in Bangalore to meet them.

According to the testimony of Mohandas, there was pressure from the Central Government to return the wireless sets after Prabhakaran went on a hunger strike. Chidambaram even made a public statement explaining that the Central Government was not responsible for confiscating the wireless sets. Later, MGR under pressure from the Centre, asked the State police to also return the arms and ammunition seized by them a short while earlier during Operation Tiger.

A former Home Secretary of Tamil Nadu, R. Nagarajan, related to the Commission how the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1988 freed 142 LTTE militants, including Kittu, who had been detained under NSA after being arrested by the State police.

The LTTE detenues, including Kittu and a woman were released, on the orders of the Government of India and flown back to Sri Lanka in batches by the IAF. Incidentally this was at the same time as the Indian army was fighting the LTTE in Jaffna. Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh in his testimony has described such behaviour as part of ``Rajiv's dual policy.''

(According to intelligence sources, but not mentioned in the Jain report, one of the detenues released was Sivarasan.) Just three months before his death, Rajiv Gandhi met LTTE activist Kasi Anandan at his residence in Delhi. The meeting on March 5, 1991 was arranged through the good offices of Malini Parthasarthy of The Hindu newspaper. This has been confirmed not just by Kasi Anandan but by the State intelligence set-up. Anandan claims he talked of the need to bridge the gap that had developed between the LTTE and Rajiv Gandhi and sought the Congress leader's support. He handed over a letter to Gandhi in this connection. According to Anandan, Gandhi asked him to get a letter from Prabhakaran explaining what the LTTE chief expected him to do.

Anandan duly conveyed the message to Kittu in London. But there was no response.

That Prabhakaran was once close to Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi also emerges from the testimony of Hardip Puri, former First Secretary (Political) in the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Puri whose job was to liaison with Prabhakaran on behalf of the Rajiv Gandhi Government, has quoted Prabhakaran as telling him, ``I love India, I worship the previous Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. I respect your present PM. I can never do anything which harms India.''

Prabhakaran felt, according to Puri, that certain agencies in India had conspired to kill him. He complained that some Tamil youth captured by the LTTE had confessed to him that they had been armed and trained in India and had been sent to Jaffna specifically to kill him. Another conversation reported by Puri quotes the LTTE chief as remarking, ``After all, this is only a quarrel between a mother and a child. It is not possible for the LTTE to exist without India and your Prime Minister.''

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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