The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi written by Neena Gopal, the last journalist who interviewed him is an account of Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination. In this book, she attempts to paint the picture of the causes behind the deadly end to the 46-year old politician. She has brought into view the various facets of legislature, executive and judiciary by giving a brief account of the legislative happenings during the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi and post his regime, the account of the foreign policy and the various executive actions like the accords and lastly, she describes the judicial scrutiny of the case. She also attempts to give life to the personality of Prabhakaran besides the end of the LTTE Supremo, who was the mastermind behind this tragic event. She describes the end of the LTTE era and scars that it left behind. The book also portrays the post-LTTE atmosphere in Jaffna, the political atmosphere and the life of a common man.
This book helps to understand the Sino- Indian Relations, pre-IPKF intervention and post it. The book focuses on the power struggle between the majority, Sinhala Community and minority, Srilankan Tamils, the peril of which was faced by Gandhi due to his inability to gauge the danger that it posed to him in the long run. Neena Gopal through her experience as a journalist and her research helps to fill in the gaps and establish the account of a series of events that preceded the dreadful night of 21st May 1990.
The book will be a treat for readers who like to delve deeper into the foreign policy of India in addition to the ones interested in prominent historical occurrences.
“Have you noticed how every time any South Asian leader of any import rises to a position of power or is about to achieve something for himself or his country, he is cut down, attacked, killed” (Gopal, N. (2016). The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Penguin/Viking).
On 21st October 1991, the then opposition leader, the youngest Indian Prime Minister and the potential future Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, met his end. In the first chapter, Neena Gopal, the last journalist to interview the forty-six years old charismatic leader brings forward the picture of the hell that broke loose on that night as Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. In her mind’s eye, the whole incident left a life-long impression as she had the first hand experience of the end of India’s most beloved leader which was evitable from the support and the love people had showered over him during his campaigns.
Neena Gopal in the second chapter via help of several other authors like D.R. Kartikeya, Subramanian Swamy and K. Ragothaman brings to picture the search of assassins of Rajiv Gandhi and this hunt wouldn’t be possible if R.K. Raghavan, the Inspector General of Police in-charge of security at Sriperumbudar had not stumbled upon the camera of Haribabu, one of the members of Operation Wedding, which was the codename of the Assassination. The SIT was able to narrow down the involvement of LTTE, though in the beginning the involvement of a group of Khalistan Sikhs, ULFA and Kashmiri extremists was conjectured.
The photographs of Nalini and Sivaresan retrieved from the camera played the most vital link in connecting the dots and subsequently the photographs, videos and cassettes seized from Bhagyanathan and Perarivalan aided in tying the act of Assassination to LTTE. Neena Gopal through use of the metaphor “no roaring tiger” attempts to bring out the cowardness of the members of the operation like Subba, Suresh Master, Nehru and Sivaresan, who didn’t fight for a cause. This shows that the members who once roared like tigers their hatred towards IPKF and Rajeev Gandhi, on the account of being chased like dogs ‘collapsed in whimper’. (Gopal, N. (2016). The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Penguin/Viking.)
Chapter 3 describes the Jaffna Conspiracy, where Prabhakaran who held a grudge against Gandhi hatched a plan to kill the former Prime Minister. Thriller movies acted as a source of inspiration as well as were his sole means of entertainment. In the book, Neena brings to the attention of the readers that Prabhakaran settled his grudges against his foes by publicly eliminating his enemies as a means of implanting a sense of fear in his rivals. The hatred towards Rajiv Gandhi was fueled by the Colombo elite as well. Chandran, a RAW agent described Prabhakaran as a man of few words but with great leadership qualities who despised one thing that was treachery. This chapter primarily sketches the hatred of Prabhakaran towards Gandhi due to non-fulfilment of his dream of separate Eelam State and his personality traits. This helps to understand the psyche of the mastermind.
In the subsequent chapter, the author brings out the stark differences in Indira’s and Rajiv’s foreign policy with major focus on Rajiv Gandhi’s. The fallacies of his foreign policy was his inability to understand the Tamil Card, his reliance on his advisors who altered his thinking and his naïve child-like approach towards the Sino-Indo Relations. All this resulted in himself digging his own grave in the literal sense. The author paints the picture of RAW as an inept judge of LTTE’s intentions, the failure of which cost the life of Rajiv Gandhi. Here, she mentions that the pride of Gandhi and the close handedness of the then ruling party with regard to Z- Security aided the assassins. She describes in detail the various tips to intelligence agencies and their failure to gauge them. The incompetence of RAW to read the threat i.e. Prabhakaran, discloses a lack of understanding. Moreover, the political power in India that is VP Singh’s government shunned away any tips regarding danger to the Gandhian Scion.
The death of Prabhakaran resulted in the end of 26 years of war. Prabhakaran signed his own death warrant when he attempted to assassinate the Sri Lanka Army Chief Lt. Gen Fonsenka. With regard to his death, there are two theories, firstly, he died in the wake of the Srilankan Army Bullets; secondly he was captured and shot. The LTTE Supremo had no chance of survival as he was entangled in the trap of the army. The death of the man who had the blood of Rajiv Gandhi and others didn’t come easy as the White Flag Massacre burnt had to be undertaken by several innocent lives.
One of the longest running trails in Indian History was brought to a halt as the Justice V. Navaneetham, the rationale of which was in consonance with SIT Investigation, a pronounced death sentence to the 26 accused by adjudging it as the rarest of rare case. The defense went in appeal to the Supreme Court, the court adopted a different approach by dividing the accused into four categories, the hardcore, the ones who induced others into the conspiracy, the ones who joined and the passive members. The conviction of seven accused was upheld and they were placed in the second category while the remaining eighteen were acquitted of the charge of conspiracy to murder Rajiv Gandhi. Though the death sentence of three men was commuted to life imprisonment by Court and that of Nalini on the pleading for clemency by Sonia Gandhi.
In Chapter 7 of the book, the author attempts to decipher the judicial scrutiny undertaken for the case but fails to incorporate the proper case analysis of the case which may add confusion to the minds of the readers as her approach is rather descriptive. The author tries to illustrate the annotation that took place post-Prabhakaran era by bringing a bird’s eye view of the life of ordinary people in a free Jaffna as well as the political conditions of the land.
The author of the book has a descriptive tone attached to the text, the book shines in areas where the author has used a dialectical method to convey her views. The most intriguing of all chapters is chapter one of the book as it is a first-hand account of how the former Prime Minister was assassinated as the author witnessed the incident. In the last bits of the book, she sympathizes with the Sri-Lankan Tamils which adds a humane touch to the descriptive account. The book tries to incorporate the events that precede and succeed the assassination. It’s like reading through the mindset of the several diplomats, advisors and Rajiv Gandhi.
This account of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi through this book suggests that no crime is perfect, as traces of the sins usually never go unfettered; in the present case, the camera was the prime piece of evidence which helped in connecting the dots. Understanding the psyche of the criminals played a major role in unravelling the mystery behind the assassination. Moreover, the prophetic statement of Gandhi as mentioned in the beginning highlights the divide between the first world and other nations and the greed to not depart from supremacy.
(The writer is a 3rd-year law student, pursuing B.A.LL.B from Christ Academy Institute of Law, Bengaluru.)