3 October, 2023


When I Heard LTTE Forces Order Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination

By R Hariharan

 Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

When I heard LTTE forces order Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination: I checked with my Sri Lankan sources who said the then PM would be killed in keeping with Prabhakaran’s style.

Saturday, August 20th was the late Rajiv Gandhi‘s birthday. Rajiv Gandhi’s political career was barely seven years; it started with the assassination of his mother Ms Indira Gandhi in 1984 and ended with his own assassination. But within those years, he made a mark by doing things differently from the traditional political class. Had the charismatic leader not become the victim of a LTTE suicide bomber on 21 May 1991, the Congress party’s fortunes might have been scripted differently.

Neena Gopal’s latest book “The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi” has once again brought the focus on the sordid episode of the nation’s failure to protect its former prime minister. I have always found Sri Lanka fascinating particularly after serving as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990.

Rajiv Gandhi

Rajiv Gandhi

The author, during the course of writing the book, had long conversations with me on the situation leading up to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. I have not read the book yet; but I find from the published extracts the book contains some of my recollections.

Rajiv Gandhi served as prime minister from 1984 to 1989; he had no political experience but his exuberance to get things done and impulsiveness and impatience to get results endeared him to the masses. He attempted to end longstanding conflicts facing the country during his term. While some of them like river water sharing in Punjab and ending Bodo insurgency in Assam were partly successful, many other such attempts did not live up to the expectations.

When Rajiv came to power India- Sri Lanka relations were in a mess. Mrs Gandhi had given sanctuary to a motley collection of Tamil separatist insurgent groups who had fled the island nation along with thousands of Tamils in the wake of Sri Lanka’s infamous July 1983 pogrom against Tamils. The Tamil insurgent groups became a potential threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. So Sri Lanka had little option but to accept Indian counsel, particularly after talks with Tamil groups failed to yield results.

Rajiv Gandhi signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord 1987 with President JR Jayewardene to ensure Sri Lankan Tamils got a degree of autonomy within a united Sri Lanka, while India underwrote the disarming of Tamil militants. The Accord was hastily conceived and hurriedly executed in typical Rajiv Gandhi style of trying to resolve problems in double time, often defying political wisdom. Though the implementation of the Accord cost Rajiv Gandhi his life, it is an anachronism that both the countries never allowed it to reach its logical conclusion.

Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership had done quite well till opposition parties managed to rally together and focus on his alleged involvement in the Bofors gun purchase scandal; the misconceived Indian army intervention in Sri Lanka only added masala to the allegations of Rajiv’s ineptness. Young Gandhi scion’s popularity drastically came down, resulting in the Congress party’s defeat in the national elections held in 1989.

It was a depressing time for men in uniform like me in Sri Lanka from 1988 onwards when opposition parties at home ridiculed the Indian forces while the Congress was put on the defensive. The DMK government had come to power in Tamil Nadu was openly hostile to the IPKF.

It extended hospitality to wounded LTTE cadres in the state, while our soldiers fighting them died un-mourned in foreign soil.

The VP Singh government in New Delhi and President Premadasa were on the same page on the recall of IPKF. It was on 24 March 1990 the last landing craft carrying Indian Peace Keeping Force commander and his operations group left Trincomalee harbour to Chennai.

Thus both the governments saved the LTTE from annihilation as IPKF had already cut it down to size, reducing the overblown self image of Prabhakaran to the realistic proportion of an insurgent leader in hiding in the jungle. He knew he was fighting with his back to the wall; eight batches of LTTE leadership were dead.

Even as IPKF observed a ceasefire, Prabhakaran had secretly made common cause with his sworn enemy Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premadasa to do what he couldn’t – to evict the IPKF from Sri Lanka. It must have been a humiliating experience for Prabhakaran to break bread with Premadasa. Prabhakaran’s plot to assassinate Rajv Gandhi was probably conceived at that time. Premadasa readily obliged the LTTE leader; he not only issued an ultimatum to India to withdraw the forces from the island but also supplied arms to the LTTE.

During the next couple of months, the IPKF was being disbanded in Chennai and our headquarters was being wound up. The component units and formations moved out. Last of our radio interception units that had regularly shared its output of LTTE transmissions brought me one such intercept.

It was a recording of one of the LTTE networks operating from somewhere in Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. The contents of the conversation in the peculiar Jaffna Tamil dialect were startling. It ordered the “dumping” of Rajiv Gandhi. While I don’t remember the exact wording, the scene is still embedded in my mind.

Dumping is the term LTTE used for killing. I was familiar with the LTTE dialect used in their communication. In 1987, I had collected the documentation of LTTE kangaroo courts done with Nazi precision ordering “dumping” of 102 people who were shot and dumped in garbage pit for committing crimes like selling drugs, soliciting etc. I called the radio operator who knew Jaffna Tamil very well to confirm the content of the intercept; he was emphatic it was an order to kill Rajiv Gandhi. I was shocked and immediately informed the IPKF force commander.

He asked me not to “touch it.” He had good reasons because we have no functional headquarters for follow up action. He asked me to hand over the audio cassette to the Intelligence Bureau in Chennai for taking further action. Immediately, I went over to the IB headquarters and met the joint director.

He was a good friend known to me for over a decade. He listened to the audio and laughed at me. “Colonel, it is all bravado. They are not specifically saying when and where Rajiv should be killed. In any case, I don’t believe they would kill Rajiv. Why would they?” I still remember the conversation because it left me uneasy though I had no answer to his logical reasoning. With a troubled mind, I returned to my office.

I checked with my Sri Lankan Tamil sources who said Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination would be in keeping with Prabhakaran’s style.

Later, when I was in New Delhi in early 1991, I dropped into the North Block office of the same IB officer I had met in Chennai. He was holding a top security appointment. He asked me about my future plans after retirement in March 1991 and offered to assist me in case I needed any help. I again asked him about the Rajiv Gandhi assassination cassette; he simply laughed it off.

The rest is history; Rajiv Gandhi’s killing came as a shock to me. I was left with a lingering feeling of guilt for not vigorously pursuing the information I had in hand which could have prevented the assassination. When the Special Investigation Team was formed to investigate Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, its chief DR Karthikeyan called me to help out in the investigations. As I had retired, I suggested the names of officers and NCOs who could help him to progress the investigation.

I also informed him about the audio cassette containing assassination threat to Rajiv Gandhi I had handed over to the IB. He told me the Navy also had a similar intercept.

This is one instance where Indian intelligence community as a whole had failed. Now I understand why Americans had failed to read the 9/11 attack although they had bits and pieces of information about it well in advance. Collecting information is one thing; but assessing what it implied is a different ball game.

Napoleon said if you expect the enemy to attack from four directions, he may well do it from the fifth one!

So true!

*Col R Hariharan, a retired MI officer, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force from 1987 to 90. E-mail: haridirect@gmail.com Blog: http://col.hariharan.info

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  • 4

    Hariharan India has always betrayed the island’s Tamil population and had never sided with them from the time of independence. Just to please the Sinhalese and have good relations with them.

    They were not firm with the Sinhalese racists when they made over a million Indian origin estate Tamil stateless after living in the island for more than 200 years and were then the mainstay of the island’s economy. They offered to take most of these so called stateless Tamils back to India, when many of them did not want. India was a strange land to them. The same thing happened in Burma. In contrast when the affected Indian origin population was not Tamil but of largely North Indian origin, like in Fiji, India behaved very differently.
    Are you aware that the vast majority of the so called present day Sinhalese, many of whom are now beating the anti Tamil drum, are purely descended from indenture low caste/dalit Indian Tamil slave immigrants who were imported into the island by the Portuguese and Dutch colonials. It is these 8th or 9th generation Sinhalised descendants of these low caste Indian Tamil coolies, who were largely settled along the western and southern parts of the island, now make the Sinhalese a majority in the island.
    They then gave Katchateevu on a platter to Sri Lanka, against the wishes of the people of Tamil Nadu, when there was ample proof that the island belonged to Tamil Nadu.
    Whenever any occasion arose either locally or at the international stage with regards to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. India has openly or covertly sided with the Sinhalese. When the opportunity arose, they only used the Sri Lankan Tamil issue and created the LTTE for their own selfish ends to teach the island’s Sinhalese a lesson, for getting too close to the USA and the west. However once they taught them a lesson and reached an agreement with the Sinhalese, they dropped the Sri Lankan Tamils and their issue like hot bricks and sent the IPKF to discipline them. To their surprise, their little pet Prapakaran had matured grownup and became confident and did obey their command and fall inline with the Indian plan and agenda.

    The rest is history the so called Indian Peace Keeping Force, largely made up of Tamil hating North Indians and Sikhs became a brutal Indian Raping and Looting Force that wanted to teach Pripakaran the LTTE and Sri Lankan Tamils a good lesson for not falling inline with the Indian agenda. Since then India has deliberately demonised not only the LTTE but also the entire Sri Lankan Tamil population and their just cause to the entire world and overtly and covertly supported the Sinhalese by providing military monetary economic diplomatic and logistic support.

    We all know the support India gave to the Sinhalese in May 2009 and India’s dirty hand in this revenge. It was not only Tamil hating North Indians and Malayali(strangely another recent offshoot of the Tamils)but even shameless Indian Tamil Brahmins like you, despite being ethnically Tamil were in the forefront of this. Many of the victims were your own fellow Tamil Brahmins from Jaffna and Vanni.

    If you think that Sinhalese are grateful for all this they are not and think that you will find sympathy for Rajiv from the population in Sri Lanka, you will not. Tamils in Sri Lanka now do not trust India, especially North Indians Malayalee and Indian Tamil Brahmins like you. We all acknowledge that the LTTE made the biggest blunder killing a former Indian Prime Minister, especially stating, that this deed was done on our behalf. However if you think we have any sympathy for Rajiv Gandhi,the answer is an emphatic No. He deserved what he got. He committed a war crime against us just like Rajapakse. He deliberately sent the IPKF to rape loot and murder us. Since then all India has done is to demonise and betray us to the world,at every opportunity and even the Sinhalese the ultimate beneficiaries of India’s largesse,are not in the least grateful for all this support given to them by India.

    Lastly where is this so called great achievement of Rajiv? The ill conceived 1987 Indo Sri Lanka agreement? All successive Sinhalese led governments from JR Jayawardene had ignored. Mahinda Rajapakse your former hero, whom your Indian government helped to commit war crimes against the Tamils threw it in the dustbin and so far this government has also ignored it.
    To you and many Indians Rajiv may be great but to us his name is synonymous with betrayal, the IPKF atrocities and more Indian betrayal and treachery towards us.

    • 4


      What you say is all true; but SL Tamils need to properly ‘manage’ their relationship with Indians better, regardless of what happened in the past. Whether we like it or not, India, given the vastness of its population and economy, will remain a power that cannot be ignored.

      People like Karunanidhi also let the SL Tamils down; focused as they were on their business interests and their own political power, they stopped with some antics like sham fasts and vague statements, but did not do more to help the SL Tamils when their lives were on the line in the Vanni. So it wasn’t just the Brahmins who were to blame.

      Moreover, Siddharthan’s name shows up in that book by Gopal, but isn’t he now part of the TNA? How does one explain his coziness with India at that time? And what did people like him get for the Tamil people at large in return?

      • 4

        What you state is also true, we do have manage our relationship with India but have to be vary of them, as so far all they have done to us is cause pain and suffering. Yes It was not only Indian Tamil Brahmins but even others Indian Tamil communities also betrayed the Sri Lankan Tamils, however amongst the Indian Tamil Brahmins hatred fro Sri Lankan Tamils and their cause was the norm and not an exception. More than 90% of them openly supported the Sinhalese racist. Amongst the other non Brahmin Tamil communities in India this support for the Sinhalese was not the norm but the exception. You can understand other Indian ethnic groups supporting the Sinhalese for various reasons but these people are Tamil by ethnicity and their actions for this reason alone can never be forgiven. They betrayed their own ethnicity language and culture.
        Whatever differences or grudges they had with the Dravidian parties or extremists in Tamil Nadu, should have been sorted out locally but they decided to take their grievances and petty revenge on masse on a foreign Tamil population that had nothing to with Dravidian extremism, India or what happened to them and support a nasty Tamil hating racist Sinhalese population.

        Don’t these people realise that the Sinhalese would have equally hated them for being Tamils if they had lived in the island and would not have spared them,just because they are Brahmins with a supposedly Aryan origin, which I doubt. Neither the Sinhalese nor most of the Tamil Brahmins are of Aryan origin. In fact there is enough and more recorded evidence of Sinhalese cruelty to Tamil Brahmins and other Hindu priests in the Jaffna and Vanni. Many instances they were treated far worse than the rest of the Tamil population.
        A year ago a Sinhalese soldiers assaulted a Tamil Brahmin priest in Jaffna,very badly and he had to be hospitalised by the locals. His sin was politely asking the soldiers to remove their shoes before entering the temple. The Sinhalese do this when they enter Buddhist temples and are aware of this custom but were very arrogant treating the Tamils and the Hindu religion as something now inferior to their Buddhist culture.

        As for Kaunanidhi, very one knows that he is a rogue. He runs down the Tamil Brahmins but is in bed with them and one of his sons is married into a powerful Tamil Brahmin family. Well there a many opportunists and time servers who previously betrayed the Eelam Tamils and are now with the TNA. It always happened. Even after post war Europe many who collaborated with the Germans then slowly joined the post war governments.
        Don’t these Indians realise we are not interested in some greater Dravidian country or Tamil Nadu. In fact despite having a strong bond and affection to the people of Tamil Nadu and this includes the Indian Tamil Brahmins. Sharing a common language religion and culture, we still want to maintain our own unique form of Eelam Tamil culture language food and the Saivaism that we had developed in isolation from the mainstream Tamil culture in the past 2300 years. We are similar but in many ways very different in our way of thinking, the way we treat our women and in many other aspects. We have become like too close first cousins.

        Only Sinhalese extremist and paranoid anti Tamil elements in the Indian society bring this fear amongst Indians that if just Tamil rights and self determination to the Eelam Tamils is granted it will ensure the break up of India. Bangladesh never ensures the break up India and nor will Eelam. Eelam had existed for thousands of years until European colonisation independent of India and Eelam Tamils do not want to be submerged and assimilated into the culture of Tamil Nadu. Our culture history food habits and language is a unique blend of the what is modern Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

    • 0

      Indians sided with Tamils when it served india’s interests. And abt the racism of Sinhalese, sinhalese are the LEAST racist community on planet. They dont even have ethnic consiousness. That is exactly why this traitor RW came to power. If the Sinhalese had even an iota of consideration for their ethnicity the RW would have been kicked out a long time ago.

      Sinhala people vote for mainly economic reasons that is contrasts with Tamil voting patterns where they always go for the most nationalist and tribal tamil politicians. That is why the likes of GG Ponnambalam could come to power using tribalism.

      This whole ethnic issue was started by Tamils not Sinhalese and it was the Tamils who started claiming false history and started insulting SInhala.

      The Tamils and Vellalas in particular have a huge ego problem still our sinhala idiots have not realised it and think these tamils are genuinely seeking peace.

      I dont have to go further look at his own comment where he implies sinhalese are low caste tamils. The Tamils live with a superiority complex thinking Sinhalese are lesser than them. The sinhalese are not big enough to rule them. This is the mentality that caused them and it finally resulted in them being raped in Nandikadal.

      The only issue we have in SL is acute Tamil tribalism

      • 1

        Sinhalese are the least racist! This like the Nazis stating they were not racist at all. It is Sinhalese racism and tribalism that is the root cause of the problem and not the Tamils do not blame the victims

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