Twenty six years is a very long time to nurture a discomfort of ‘failure’ but for a soldier an alleged ‘forced’ botched operation, which may have turned the pages of history, on the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, is an insult to his uniform and a bad memory, which just doesn’t go, Bala Chauhan reports.
For Major AK Ravindran the memory of the dawn of August 20, 1991 doesn’t blur even after two and half decades. “I along with my team of six commandos were ready to storm inside the house in Konanakunte and catch at least some of them alive. I was ready to die. Either I would have killed Sivarasan or he would have killed me but at least we could have got some of them alive and the investigation would have had the real story from them; of people behind the assassination conspiracy.
“There was a 50 per cent chance of getting Sivarasan alive. We killed the element of surprise, which is key to any operation. We were made to wait for a go ahead from the SIT chief for two days even as the word spread and the crowd outside the house in Konankunte grew. They (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, assassins of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi) watched the crowd from inside the house and after the cross fire in the evening of August 19, the sound inside the house came to a halt. They had ended their lives the same evening,” said Major Ravi, whose film – ‘Mission 90 days’ on the 90 days operation to nab the killers of Rajiv Gandhi is a tell-all saga, of what he alleges as a botched operation because of the bureaucratic delay by one man – the SIT chief DR Karthikeyan.
Captain Ravindran, a decorated commando from the elite National Security Guards (NSG) was specially drafted to head the operation to nab Sivarasan – the one-eyed-Jack, who had played a pivotal role in the assassination and his six accomplices including two females from Delhi.
Soon after Mandya raids on the August 17, in which five militants were captured alive, Ravindran's team was asked to rush to the Jayanagar police station on August 18 at around 8.30pm. He wanted to storm the Konanakunte house immediately but his immediate boss – the then deputy inspector general of police and commanding officer of the SIT, Radha Vinod Raju, who was camping with the team all through despite having a terminally ill wife back home, asked them to hold on till he got a clearance from Mr. Karthikeyan, who was in Hyderabad, said the retired army officer.
“We had a team of 25 to 30 commandos out of who six were drafted to storm the house. I spoke to Mr. Karthikeyan over the phone on August 18 at around 8.30 pm in front of the then Bengaluru Police Commissioner R. Ramalingam that we should not waste any time but it took a long time for the orders to come. We waited for permission from the night of August 18 and were finally given a go ahead for early morning on August 20. From 19th the word had spread and people had started gathering around the house. The inmates were alerted and we had lost the game. We knew that the militants were armed with an AK-7 and a pistol and a surprise ambush was the logical option. There were 50 per cent chances of catching Sivarasan alive and 99 per cent chances that some of his accomplices could have been caught alive. All of them were carrying cyanide capsules. It would have taken us 30 seconds to storm inside the house and even if they had consumed cyanide we could have revived them by immediately injecting the anti dote within 25 to 30 seconds. There was a doctor in the team of commandos. We could have got them and the case would have taken a different turn,” said the retired Army officer.
Major Ravi still questions the SIT chief- Mr. Karthikeyan’s decision on delaying the go ahead order. “I met Mr. Karthikeyan on August 19 at around 5pm and I asked him why the operation was delayed. He told me that they were waiting for some more reinforcements and cyanide anti-dotes. I said that we had a consolidated team of commandos and eight anti dotes, which were enough for the operation. We had enough paraphernalia; communication devices, firearms and explosives and we were in sync with each other. There were only two entries to the house through which only six commandos could go in one after the other. We had planned it to the last assault but the orders were waiting. He should have trusted us. Why did he ask us to wait and for what reason is not clear to me till date,” he said. After that evening’s cross fire in which Sivarasan had fired at one of the commandos from his AK47, the sounds from inside the house stopped.
The orders finally came for August 20 early morning and Captain Ravi readied his boys to storm inside the LTTE den. At around 5.30 am, when he sent the ‘go ahead’ message over the wireless four commandos jumped on the terrace of the house from the neighbouring house and stormed the terrace door. “I had instructed them not to take the stair case immediately because they could have got caught in the cross fire. I entered the house after storming the kitchen door, which was at the back side with my buddy and four commandos. I fired three rounds at the ceiling and when we walked through the smoke we found Sivarasan and four others lying dead in a row holding hands. The two others were lying dead a little away from them. Sivarasan had a hole in the right side of his forehead and an AK 47 on his chest. He must have asked his accomplice Neru to shoot him with his pistol before consuming cyanide because he knew that we were armed with cyanide anti dotes and would try to revive him. The others were frothing from their mouths. They were dead the previous evening,” said the officer.
“The case should be re-opened and re-investigated. There were a lot of Congress politicians with Rajiv Gandhi. None of them was killed or seriously injured. Only his security personnel and some others were killed. They were not questioned either. There was a VCR, which had allegedly recorded his assassination. Where is it? Who was actually behind his assassination will never be known. What we had lost was a major operation and perhaps the truth. Nobody should take credit for a failed operation,” said Major Ravi....