someone Holding India Hostage?
By Jawed Naqvi
27 November, 2006
Gandhi recently made a startling statement about her husband's premonition
of death, but it went largely unnoticed. Describing her meeting with
Rajiv after Indira Gandhi was assassinated on an October morning in
1984, she told a TV channel recently: "My husband was away. He
was in West Bengal. He arrived and came straight to the hospital. It
was a very difficult moment. He did say that is what was expected of
him (to step into his mother's shoes) and I did beg him not to take
that responsibility. I did say that, because I thought he would be killed
too. He replied he would be killed in any case."
So Rajiv and Sonia knew that
Rajiv would be inevitably killed whether or not he became prime minister?
And who did they both think were going to target the future prime minister
of India? We all parrot the easier lines. Sikh bodyguards killed Indira
Gandhi at her residence in 1984. A Sri Lankan Tamil woman suicide bomber
assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in Siriperembudur in 1991 and, of course,
Sanjay Gandhi died because he was playing the fool with a private plane,
plunging to his death near his mother's home.
Since the LTTE was not even
remotely an issue for India on the day of Indira Gandhi's death, when
the exchange with Sonia took place, the source of Rajiv Gandhi's fears
was evidently elsewhere. Was he alluding to Sikh insurgents because
they had got his mother in a shower of bullets with frightening ease?
Would he be killed "in any case", by the same Sikh rebels?
Is that what he was afraid of but defied nevertheless to become prime
minister? Yes. It could be a possible source of worry. And that is why
perhaps the prime minister's security detail ever since does not have
a single Sikh personnel, even more ironically for a prime minister who
is himself a Sikh – at a time when the army chief too is a Sikh.
But to consider not becoming prime minister because a bunch of terrorists
were out to get him? It's a little difficult to digest.
No that's not what Sonia
Gandhi and her husband were afraid of. There had to be something more
menacing, more capable of striking at will, more entrenched and threatening.
Were the two thinking of a foreign country, as his mother was given
to fearing about. An extremely powerful foreign agency perhaps? Or some
highly motivated people within the Indian system itself, or both? These
are probably very old questions, but unanswered questions nevertheless.
They are relevant today because the threat to the future prime minister,
should there be another from the Gandhi family, still looms large. Or
has that threat waned.
A reasonable approach to
these questions would be to scan the various anti-bodies that surrounded
the Gandhis in their moment of crisis. There were three or four things
that Rajiv Gandhi did during his turbulent five-year rule and later
as opposition leader that may offer clues into his death.
To begin with, in his early
days as prime minister, Rajiv had annoyed the business lobbies within
his own party by declaring a war on the "politics of moneybags".
The purported author of that famous speech in Mumbai in 1985 was believed
to be Mani Shankar Aiyar, once Rajiv's man Friday. It is possible that
the business lobbies that felt threatened by him had rejoiced at his
death. But could they have plotted his extermination? Only as conduits,
if at all.
Then there were political
rivals within his Congress party, some of whom had approached President
Zail Singh to dismiss his government. The commissions of inquiry that
went into the assassinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi pointed to the
possibility of the enemy within. But there's a global angle too. In
the Cold War context, Indira Gandhi was seen as a Soviet protégé.
She had often spoken of the threat from the CIA and from the Hindu revivalist
RSS. Both are believed to have penetrated her porous Congress party
and successfully destabilised her from within.
Indira Gandhi's emergency
rule between 1975 and 77 was supported by the pro-Soviet Communist Party
of India. In a post-Vietnam world, with the United States looking to
avenge its humiliating exit from Saigon, Indira's move to fortify herself
against the swirling threat from the right was of a piece with the global
pattern. Within a short span Mujibur Rehman was assassinated in Bangladesh,
Bhutto in Pakistan, Allende overthrown in Chile, the Iranian and Afghan
revolutions were brewing with Soviet support and Zia ul Haq was being
groomed to wage jihad with motivated Muslim foot soldiers against the
communist government in Kabul. If we look around further there would
be more examples of the global cat and mouse.
So CIA definitely. It must
be a source of worry to Rajiv Gandhi. And why not? If we regard his
proximity to the Soviet leaders of his time, his landmark handshake
with Deng Xiaopeng and his strident disapproval of the Chandrasekhar
government's refuelling facilities given to American war planes that
were heading for the Gulf during the first war against Iraq. All this
made him stick out like a sore thumb with the Americans. Just compare
the two situations. BJP's foreign minister Jaswant Singh invites American
troops to fight the Afghan war from Indian soil. And here was Mr Gandhi
unrelenting on a core principle against foreign troops.
It is of course no longer
embarrassing for an Indian to be identified as a CIA man. Some of them
wear the proximity like a badge of honour. The Pew survey, not the most
reliable yardstick, nevertheless showed Indians as resolutely supportive
of President Bush when everyone else seemed to have deserted his destructive
policies. The new flavour in India is America. Forget the Indira Gandhi
days, no one today talks anymore about the CIA's presence in India,
about its ability to penetrate the nation's polity, to strike deep inside
its labyrinthine security agencies, of its insatiable appetite for informants
and assassins, for moles inside the country's armed forces, for stealing
invaluable secrets. (And gullible as we are, we continue to capture
in droves the Jama Masjid-type looking men with some yellow paper that
contains a secret map for Pakistan, Nepal or Bangladesh. Is there any
secret left to be sold after the National Security Council was cleaned
out very recently by we know who?)
Is it wrong to fear the worst
under the given circumstances? Why did the most crucial file on Rajiv
Gandhi's assassination disappear from Prime Minister Rao's office? Is
it outlandish to suspect that India's lurch to the right was plotted
with the help of key assassinations? And the answer should come from
Sonia Gandhi. Who is threatening her that she decided to surrender a
mandate that was hers to a bunch of people who have either never won
an election or were defeated in the last polls. Only she can tell if
someone is holding the country hostage, someone who perhaps controls
the stock markets that rocked like an earthquake when she was about
to be anointed in May 2004.
Someone she had in mind in
her interview recently.
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