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Ninety Days: The True Story of the Hunt for Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassins is a taut reconstruction of a political assassination that shook India

Anirudhya Mitra's book offers a deeper understanding of the events and the attempted cover-up that followed

Rajiv Gandhi, book on Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi assassination, Rajiv Gandhi assassins, book review, book on Rajiv Gandhi assassination, eye 2022, sunday eye, indian express newsNinety Days: The True Story of the Hunt for Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassins; by Anirudhya Mitra; Harper Collins; 284 pages; Rs 599 (Photo: Amazon.in)

This is a step-by-step account of the investigation of one of the most shocking crimes in contemporary India. Undeterred even by the cold-blooded threats from the LTTE, the author, then a principal correspondent with India Today magazine, fully utilised his contacts in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Intelligence Bureau to expose the conspiracy behind the killing of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, along with 18 others, in a political function at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. The book is a vivid revelation of the work done by the CBI’s Special Investigation Team (SIT), despite facing hurdles and harassment at times.

The SIT, headed by DR Kaarthikeyan of the1964 batch of the IPS, left no stone unturned to unearth the conspiracy, despite the fact that the R&AW chief continued to maintain for quite some time that “the LTTE was not behind the assassination”. The SIT got a lucky break on the case from a photograph published in a newspaper of the suspected suicide bomber, developed from the camera (of one of the assassins, photographer Haribabu, who died in the blast), that was picked up by the local police from the blast site and handed over to the Tamil Nadu Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL). The first breakthrough happened during a routine police check when a Sri Lankan Tamil suspect was detained. He happened to be one of the nine-member assassination squad and most of the other arrests followed as a result of meticulous surveillance and careful planning by the SIT.

The author has given due credit to the NSG Captain, Ravindran, who, in a covert operation, successfully caught hold of one of the conspirators, the explosive expert and a member of LTTE’s intelligence wing, Murugan, before he could reach for his cyanide pill. Another assassin, Nalini, was also simultaneously overpowered. However, the Captain was not lucky enough to catch the key mastermind Sivarasan alive from his last hideout in Bangalore. He was not given a go-ahead for his “thirty-second stormy plan” by the CBI and the Bangalore police commissioner, and was made to wait for the arrival of fresh anti-cyanide kits from Gwalior half-way through the operation. All seven fugitives were found dead inside the building when raided: Sivarasan had shot himself and the others after consuming cyanide pills.

The SIT, headed by DR Kaarthikeyan of the1964 batch of the IPS, left no stone unturned to unearth the conspiracy. (Photo: Amazon.in)

The book notes the anguish of the CBI sleuths with the director, Tamil Nadu FSL, who leaked the photo of the suspected suicide-bomber to the media without first sharing it with the SIT. The author does not spare even the SIT of negligence during the investigation. He has not only highlighted lapses in the security of Rajiv Gandhi but also disclosed the non-cooperation between the state police and the CBI on a few occasions during the investigation. The resistance to the terms of agreement of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 (particularly the disarmament of the Tamil rebels) by the LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, was much in the public domain, and the threat to Rajiv Gandhi was real. Still, neither the frisking of people approaching the VIP enclosure, nor the use of metal detectors was ensured to thwart any possible threat. The IG, CID, Tamil Nadu, in charge of the function, blamed the organisers for their lack of cooperation. This ultimately eased the way for the bombers Sivarasan and Dhanu to reach their target. Further, the SIT was taken aback to know that the assassins were able to successfully conduct two dry runs (including one during former PM VP Singh’s function) without raising any suspicion, writes Mitra.

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All along the investigation, Mitra was anxious to follow up and cover the larger conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, but he could not flesh out his stories beyond a point as the SIT boss himself was found to be disinterested in going beyond the mastermind of the assassination plan. This book, an intriguing piece of investigative journalism, is undoubtedly a mark of respect to the stellar investigative work that will help future generations gain a deeper understanding of the events and the attempted cover-up that followed, of what was surely a turning point in our nation’s history.

The author is a former Special DG Police of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal

First published on: 22-10-2022 at 16:00 IST
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