Rajiv Gandhi's Assassination Was Cross-Border Terrorism
Softening attitude towards the LTTE contradicts India's policy on countering terrorism
Given the Indian Central government's objections to the release of six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Supreme Court is reviewing its November 11 decision to release them. Article 137 of the Indian Constitution allows such reviews.
Congress leader and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Sri Lankan suicide bomber belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 21, 1991 at Sripurumbudur in Tamil Nadu. The LTTE feared that if Rajiv Gandhi were to come back to power he would send the Indian army back again to Sri Lanka to crush the LTTE, which had militarily opposed India's 1987 plan for the settlement of the ethnic issue peacefully through devolution of power to the Tamils and not by the creation of a separate country "Tamil Eelam".
The six life-term convicts in the Rajiv assassination case, who were released by the Supreme Court had been part of a larger team of conspirators headed by the LTTE chief, V.Prabhakaran. The six had been in prison for more than 30 years and were serving a life sentence at the time of their release.
The Center had objected to their release on the grounds that its arguments were not heard by the Supreme Court. The court had also not considered the international ramifications of the release, as four of the six convicts, Murugan alias Sriharan, Santhan alias T. Suthenthiraraja, Robert Payas and Jayakumar were Sri Lankan nationals.
Their extradition to Sri Lanka could be problematic because that country would have difficulty in taking them back. Sri Lanka had fought and defeated the LTTE after more than three decades of hard fighting. Allowing them to re-enter the country would be politically untenable.
The release of the six would also contradict the Indian Central government's repeated contention that the LTTE constitutes a serious threat to India's security and integrity.
In its submission to the Supreme Court on seeking a review of the release, the government said that crucial facts which were in the possession of the government were not presented, leading to manifest errors in the Court's judgement.
Non-presentation of such crucial facts, going into the root of the matter, has resulted in manifest errors creeping into the final judgement passed by the court. There had been "miscarriage of justice" and a "breach of natural justice," it added.
There is speculation on how the Supreme Court overlooked the requirement to give a hearing to the Central government, whose agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), had probed the assassination, and fought the case in the court.
But there is no doubt about what the Center would have said in its submission if it had been called to testify. It would have said that the LTTE is still a serious threat to India's security and territorial integrity. This can be gleaned from the notification of the Home Ministry dated May 14, 2019 on the logic behind seeking continuance of the ban on the LTTE.
Here are some key points in the notification: "The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is an association based in Sri Lanka but has its supporters, sympathisers and agents in India. Its objective is a separate homeland (Tamil Eelam) for all Tamils. This threatens the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India as it amounts to the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union and thus falls within the ambit of unlawful activities. -
"Even after its military defeat in May, 2009 in Sri Lanka, the LTTE has not abandoned the concept of 'Eelam' and has been clandestinely working towards the 'Eelam' cause by undertaking fund-raising and propaganda activities. Remnants of the LTTE leadership or cadre have also initiated efforts to regroup scattered activists and resurrect the outfit locally and internationally.
"Separatist Tamil chauvinist groups and pro-LTTE groups continue to foster a separatist tendency amongst the masses and enhance the support base for LTTE in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. It will ultimately have a strong disintegrating influence over the territorial integrity of India. Hence a strong need to control all such separatist activities by all possible lawful means exists.
"The Tamil Diaspora continues to spread, through articles in Internet portals, anti-India feelings amongst Sri Lankan Tamils by holding the Government of India responsible for the defeat of the LTTE. Such propaganda through the Internet continues and is likely to affect the security of Very Very Important Persons (VVIP) in India.
"Activities of the remaining cadres of the LTTE, dropouts, sympathisers, and supporters who have been traced recently in the State of Tamil Nadu suggest that the cadres sent to Tamil Nadu would ultimately be utilised by the LTTE for unlawful activities. The activities of pro-LTTE organisations and individuals, despite the ban in force, have come to the notice of the Government of India. Attempts have been made by these forces to extend their support to the LTTE;
"LTTE leaders, operatives and supporters have been inimically opposed to India's policy on their organisation and to the actions of the State machinery in curbing their activities.
The Central Government is of the opinion that—(i) because of the LTTE's continued violent and disruptive activities which are prejudicial to the integrity and sovereignty of India; and (ii) the LTTE continues to adopt a strong anti-India posture as also continues to pose a grave threat to the security of Indian nationals, it is necessary to declare the LTTE as an unlawful association with immediate effect."
The LTTE, which continues to be a banned organisation in India and Sri Lanka, is also banned in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the 27 member nations of the European Union.
Any softening of the attitude towards the LTTE would contradict India's consistent policy on countering terrorism not only within its territory but also the world over. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not miss any opportunity to call for coordinated global measures against terrorism, especially cross-border terrorism. Rajiv Gandhi's assassination by the LTTE is a case of cross-border terrorism.
One of the reasons for the release of K.G.Perarivalan (another accused in the Rajiv Gandhi) earlier this year, was that he has spent his time in getting higher educational qualifications and was well behaved. But this could be a convenient excuse for the release of politically connected criminals and terrorists.
That would lead to the replication of the Bilkis Bano case in Gujarat earlier this year, where the 11 men who raped her, and killed 14 others close to her, in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots were released by the BJP regime there. Deadly criminals with political backing could be released if court decisions could be reversed so easily.