Playing with a nation's choices
Part 1 : Three funerals and a wedding
I was part of various analysis teams of Indian intelligence agencies during the 80's and 90's and now live a anonymous life in a distant land. What I am going to propagate over a 3 part series in the next few days might seem very farfetched and even fantastic to most people and many conspiracy theorists might gleefully accept it as vindication for whatever they have been screaming from rooftops for quite some time now. My attempt though is neither to please any one nor to prove someone else wrong or right; it is just to come out with the truth as we perceived it. Most of the theory that I am going to put forward in part 1 is the work of us 5 people in 1991 while analyzing all the intelligence inputs over the years in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. We in the intelligence parlays termed it as "the Rajiv brief". Most conclusions that we had come up with were unanimous and unequivocal. I must hasten to add that many parts of this so called "the Rajiv brief" were also part of an earlier analysis done in the mid 80's by another team investigating the conspiracy angle to Mrs Indira Gandhi's death. Theoretic overlapping in terms of evidences, intelligence briefings and logical conclusions between these two analysis reports might be common, but there are also significant points of divergence in both of these reports and since I have been privy to both I would suggest that the number of points of convergence between both sets of analysis far outnumber the differences. Sometime in the middle of 1992 we were suddenly asked to debunk the whole theory and change our line of thinking by powers that be, and we had to let go of a "very strong" case that we were building then. Of the core group of 5 analysts who were working on that case, 3 are no more (all died of normal causes) and 2 of us are still living anonymously without being in touch with each other. This is my attempt (after almost 2 decades) to complete "the Rajiv brief" and take it to its logical conclusion with the benefit of hindsight. I must warn though, that this is at the end of the day, just a theory based on intelligence inputs and field analysis built on a very plausible premise. It is an attempt to fill in the blanks between the "if's" and "buts" of history with the luxury of retrospective intelligence.
The Theory: Five people four scenarios and three events
Mrs Sonia Gandhi is today the most powerful person in India and probably one of the most powerful women on earth. Elections 2009 have only reinforced her power. How did she end up becoming the most powerful person in India? This is the story of that ascendancy. Five people, four scenarios and three events stood between Mrs Sonia Gandhi and her destiny. Over the next few pages I am going to explain those scenarios through the eyes of a former intelligence analyst.
Scenario 1: The Rajiv-Sonia marriage
At the outset there is nothing more than just another love story to Mr Rajiv Gandhi's romance with Miss Antonia Albina Maino in the mid 1960's. Any suggestion that there were characters in the Cambridge university campus that not only hooked them up but also nurtured the famous romance is too farfetched. But having said that, let us consider some of the London tabloid reports of that time which variously suggested Rajiv was "constantly influenced" by a couple of students of European origin (I would not take names and let researchers do some hard work) and that at least one of those students was later absorbed by the Vatican's intelligence wing. It would also be farfetched to speculate on Indian intelligence requesting the help of MI5 to analyze the Rajiv-Sonia romance, at least am not aware of any such report ever being filed. All these rumours and theories have done their rounds in the intelligence quarters of Delhi, especially during 1991-1992, but then we are rushing ahead of time so we shall deal with that later. I would now present as to what intelligence agencies actually did, which was very little, and let people draw their own conclusion.
Post World War 1, Turin was a hub of political activity. Communism was at its peak in Europe and many left leaning socialist organizations were dabbling with the Marxist ideology and as a counter balance to that the fascist forces were emerging as an attractive alternative to many Catholics of Italy, and Turin was no exception. The small village of Orbassano near Turin mainly composed of orthodox Roman Catholic families and they all dreaded the arrival of communists on their shores and decided to join hands with the fascists lead by Mussolini. Paolo Maino was one of them. Indian intelligence gathering techniques are never given their due credit, but we have done some first rate jobs which have never been acknowledged and Mrs Sonia Gandhi's background check was one of them. It was found that after the end of Second World War when many fascists were purged, Paolo Maino was protected by the church and no less than the Vatican itself intervened in his case and all papers pertaining to him were there by transferred to the Vatican! It was furthermore established that one of the more mysterious uncles of Paolo Maino worked for the super secret intelligence organization of the Vatican, the Opus Dei. Paolo was a construction contractor and had little savings; he could not entirely afford the educational and other expenses of his children. This mysterious uncle; who was working for the Opus Dei and whose name had been deleted from all the intelligence files; sponsored Antonio Albina Maino's education in Cambridge in the 1960's.
During her stay in Cambridge Miss Antonio took an "unusually high degree" of interest in the activities of groups concerning students of Indian Diaspora much before she met Rajiv. In fact, their first meeting took place in the presence of other Indian origin students and not in a Greek cafe as widely reported later. But throughout all of this she continued her association with the church and its activities and was in constant touch with "certain sections of the Vatican" which were previously also associated with the fascists. When Indian intelligence officials later questioned one of Miss Antonio's close associates during her stay in the Cambridge, he described her relationship with the Vatican as akin to "umbilical cord". All of these titbits were filed by many field officers of various intelligence agencies over a period of years but most analysts in the intelligence parlays of India termed them as "innocent" at worst and "needs evaluation" at best. Of course one can always concede that the analysts of that era lack the luxury of retrospective analysis as we do have now, there was definitely some lax attitude shown by these analysts in trying to decipher these events. Thus one day in 1968, after 3 odd years of courtship Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and Miss Antonio Maino; the daughter of former Fascist soldier, Paolo Maino; were married in Delhi. Miss Maino then became Mrs Sonia Gandhi for all intentions and purposes and the stepping stone to her destiny was covered with roses.
Scenario 2: Event 1, June 23rd 1980
The first player in the political theatre to have been eliminated and also the most important first link to the series of events that led to the present dispensation in the corridors of Delhi. Circumstantial evidence in the June 23rd 1980 Sanjay Gandhi air crash near Safdarjung airport points to foul play but let's not get sucked into those futile arguments that have been raging ever since. Just suffice it to say that the single-member enquiry commission headed by Mr M L Jain which was formed to study the circumstances that lead to the plane crash has never submitted any report what so ever to the government in 3 decades. Now isn't that fishy?
Anybody who is aware of the 70's brand of politics in India would know that Sanjay was the most important political centre, around whom most of the power was concentrated and dispensed with. Many even believed that Sanjay wielded more power than Indira Gandhi herself. It thus became pertinent for most intelligence agencies concerned with India's affairs to have a thick case file about Sanjay Gandhi and his activities. There were some widely debunked theories of the junior Gandhi leaning towards CIA and Mrs Gandhi not being in agreement with his ideas, I do not know the origin or the veracities of these hypotheses so I would not make any comment either to encourage or discourage them. The 1960's and 70's Delhi was a hub of international espionage (like any other capital of any other country) because most intelligence agencies (including CIA & KGB) of that era depended on HUMINT or human intelligence officers to gather intelligence rather than satellites and drones of today. Every other day there would be speculation in the media circles of a certain politician or a certain bureaucrat working in tandem with a certain foreign intelligence agency; I would be lying if I claimed that all these speculations were wrong, in fact there were quite a few surprises in the "official" list that the Indian intelligence agencies maintained, but that is a completely different subject altogether. Coming back to Sanjay Gandhi and the interest that he generated in foreign as well as Indian intelligence circles, one thing is clear, he never worked or had any relationship with any of the foreign intelligence agencies and that much I can vouch for, but the same cannot be said about his continuous indulgence and interference with the local intelligence agencies. He always used and had his men in various wings of Indian intelligence agencies. Amidst all of this originated the "Russian hypothesis".
There is no agreement as to when the real "Russian hypothesis" came into being, some argue that just prior to emergency in 1975 the Soviets sponsored this study because they had prior intelligence that emergency would be imposed on India, while still others argue that its origin was sometime during the Morarji Desai regime. I for one tend to agree with the former because it is a known fact that Soviets were consulted by Mrs Gandhi about emergency. Another reason to support the 1975 theory is that a secret meeting of the dreaded VKR had taken place in Delhi in the summer of 1975 (VKR = Voennaya Kontra Razvedka) and it had baffled many Indian intelligence officials as to why VKR (Russian counter intelligence wing) would meet in India. After the imposition of emergency and the awareness about Mrs Gandhi's soviet consultation, intelligence circles widely accepted the theory of VKR meeting in Delhi as a part of that Indo-Soviet collaboration on emergency until the emergence of the "Russian hypothesis" and the eventual demise of Mr. Sanjay Gandhi. KGB had strong presence in Delhi and across India in the 70's and many left-leaning analysts openly and covertly co-operated with KGB and other Russian intelligence agencies. One such "analyst" was part of the team that had produced the "Russian hypothesis" and he later (in 1979) leaked parts of that document to Indian intelligence and that is how the jigsaw puzzle was cracked. In the hypothesis it was concluded that Mr Sanjay Gandhi was west leaning and a capitalist and would eventually side with the CIA, although there was no universal agreement about these conclusions amongst the team that had produced the "Russian hypothesis" most of them did agree to some extent of those conclusions. It was our belief that the Soviets had decided not to take any action, mainly because of the fact that it was unlikely of KGB and even more unlikely in the case of VKR to remain quiet for more than a few months after having reached a conclusion. This is when Opus Dei comes into picture. It is a well known fact that Opus Dei and parts of Russian intelligence had always collaborated on certain matters. Exactly how or when did Opus Dei come into the possession of "Russian hypothesis" is merely in the realm of speculation but what is incontrovertible is that the Vatican intelligence did have enormous influence on Josef Stavinoha, the man who was heading VKR at that time and thus KGB in active collaboration with Opus Dei decided to act on the "Russian hypothesis" sometime in March 1980. As a direct result of that, June 23rd 1980 happened as an accident.
After the sudden demise of Mr Sanjay Gandhi, there was the question of two other people, the very political wife Mrs Maneka Gandhi and son Mr Varun Gandhi which had to be dealt with by the Gandhi family. While there is no denying the fact that Mrs Indira Gandhi and her daughter in law Mrs Maneka Gandhi had a less than cordial relationship (which was more accentuated after the arrival of Rajiv's family, as per some household sources of the family) and usually had typical "saas-bahu" war of turfs, but what is also irrefutable is the fact that Mr Varun Gandhi was Mrs Gandhi's favourite grandson and she simply doted on him. What exactly transpired and who facilitated the events are all debates of speculation for the tabloid media, but one thing is certain, both the widowed mother and son were completely sidelined and almost ceased to exist as far as the Gandhi family is concerned after ceremoniously being thrown out of the Prime Minister's residence.
Scenario 3: 1984, the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi
It was one of those events in the young life of a nation that can be termed as a defining moment in history. At the outset it was a clear case of Khalistani fundamentalists avenging operation blue-star, but there were many characters at the periphery and many events preceding it which raised many an eyebrow in the intelligence communities of the world. This was also that one colossal event that catapulted the young Mr Rajiv Gandhi, a novice in politics, to the highest seat of power in South Asia and Mrs Sonia Gandhi was now the next in the line of succession by the virtue of being his wife.
It is a historically well known fact that the Khalistan movement was nurtured by ISI and certain elements in Pakistan. Also well recorded are the initial reactions of some western countries like Canada who almost directly hobnobbed with the Sikh separatist leaders only to abandon them when the movement became increasingly violent. Tacit support of US and British intelligence agencies to the Khalistan intelligentsia was also much speculated upon those days. But what was a lesser known fact in the media and a matter of puzzling debates in the intelligence circles was the interest shown by the Vatican in the Khalistan movement. In 1980-81 Vatican had an open channel of discussions with certain groups of the so called "intellectuals" who were known sympathisers of the Sikh separatist movements. This interest and interactions continued well into the early 80's and were explained as the "right of Vatican to have an interest in other religious organizations". At the height of Khalistan movement just after operation Blue Star, many reliable Indian intelligence sources had given "definitive" information about Opus Dei funding parts of operations of Sikh separatists outside India!
After operation Blue Star there were many intelligence inputs about the threat to Mrs Gandhi's life including some specific inputs about people in the core inner circle of Mrs Gandhi's security system being vulnerable. Yet no action was taken, why? The assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi was a massive intelligence failure to say the least and yet no major enquiry was ordered to decipher the conspiracy theory, why? Sections of KGB and other Russian intelligence agencies had given a specific timeframe regarding "action" and yet their advice went unheeded, why? Soviet sources, in informal briefings had warned about certain western intelligence agencies being in cahoots with Sikh separatists and yet those warnings were disregarded, why?
A part of the answer to those questions can be explained as plain incompetence as usual. May be one can also argue that we now have the power of hindsight which we lacked then. But definitely there is a part of the answer to that question which is more complex and only takes my theory forward to its logical conclusion. It is not as if we did nothing, security experts and Intelligence aficionados gave at least 2 formal specific presentations to Mrs Gandhi on 2 different occasions about the need to re-haul the entire security apparatus around her. But on both these occasions apart from Mrs Gandhi's nonchalance we met with the biggest resistance from one particular member of her core team. He was a very powerful member of what was then known to the media as "kitchen cabinet" and had also been described as a "power broker of the highest degree" by many media houses and visiting dignitaries. There was no reason to suspect any mal-intentions in him, as he was also known to be very close to Mr Rajiv Gandhi (unlike some members of the "kitchen cabinet" who had a turf war with the junior Gandhi). Post assassination there was a bit of a stir in the media about the same gentleman followed by hush-hush events. We in the intelligence were also surprised to know about his strong linkages with certain Western intelligence agencies. Nothing really happened after that for quite some time and Mr Rajiv Gandhi only restored the same gentleman back in his team with full honours and the whole episode was laid to rest. But the biggest revelation to the intelligence wings came a little later (and was not accorded much importance at that time). Unlike media perceptions that the said gentleman belonged to the Rajiv Gandhi coterie and to the "kitchen cabinet", he actually owed both his positions and his re-instatement into the inner circles of power after the assassination of Mrs Gandhi to a certain Mrs Sonia Gandhi!
Scenario 4: 1991, the assassination of Mr Rajiv Gandhi
When Mr Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur on 21st May 1991, it did come as a shock to the intelligence community in India but it would be false to suggest that we had absolutely no clue about it. Tamil Tigers animosity towards Mr Rajiv Gandhi was by no means a universally accepted fact in the intelligence circles and yet there were "elements" in the establishment who had assessed the risk factors from time to time. Many analysts had pointed out way back in 1985 (when Rajiv first tried to establish channels to tigers) the unpredictable nature of the leadership of LTTE and their perceived closeness to "certain" European and Western intelligence agencies. Mr Rajiv Gandhi was more influenced by a section of foreign policy analysts and he paid little heed to whatever little reservations the Indian intelligence agencies had vis-à-vis Tamil Tigers. I must confess that intelligence community in India did not really cover themselves in glory in this whole episode, because it might come as a surprise to most readers to know that we had threat perception for Mr Rajiv Gandhi from many other quarters like Sikh separatists, Islamic (Pakistani funded) militant groups, Chinese sponsored mercenaries and even rogue KGB agents, but had very few inputs and analysis about Tamil Tigers! That was a grave error to say the least. Due to myriad intelligence inputs and even more complex analysis the enquiry following the assassination was mired in many ideas and was muddled in too many complexities.
The Rajiv Gandhi era was defined by two major geo-political changes in India and South Asia;
· Pakistan's involvement with separatist groups in Kashmir and the birth of Islamic terrorism in the valley
· India's direct mediation in Sri Lanka vis-à-vis Tamil issue
Both these geo-political affairs in South Asia had linkages to Western intelligence agencies at some point or other. It is a well known fact that CIA did help Kashmiri terror outfits in the initial years ostensibly to decrease Soviet influence in the region and also because US intelligence establishments were day dreaming about controlling all forms of Islamic extremist organisations from Afghanistan and Central Asia to the Middle-East and Western Africa. The results of those ill-fated forays have been disastrous as we have seen today, but that is a different story for some other time. Lesser known fact is the support to LTTE by many European intelligence agencies including MI5 & NIS (Norwegian Intelligence Service). Thus, although Mr Rajiv Gandhi considered Mr Vellupali Prabhakaran as a personal friend, the LTTE leader was more under the influence of many other intelligence organisations than India which should have been his natural ally. If the Western intelligence agencies wanted to eliminate Mr Rajiv Gandhi (for whatever myriad reasons) they had 2 very plausible ways to achieve their hit; Islamic Terror outfits in Kashmir and LTTE; apart from many other difficult options. LTTE having assassinated Mr Rajiv Gandhi unilaterally can be ruled out for all practical purposes as it was too much under the influence and control of many agencies and also it would have needed a thorough assurance that its own organization would not be eliminated following the assassination. Mr Prabhakaran, whatever else he was, was a practical man with very sensible ideas to survive for a long term struggle for Tamil Elam. He would have realized at the very outset that eliminating Mr Rajiv Gandhi could become an existential threat to LTTE itself. He had the precedence of the Khalistan movement being crushed following Mrs Indira Gandhi's assassination and the might of IPKF, which had almost managed to destroy about 80% of LTTE.
Mr Prabhakaran apart from being Tamil was also a catholic and there is a theory that the Vatican had helped LTTE in the initial phases to establish a "catholic" land in the Northern parts of Sri Lanka independent of the "Buddhist" Sinhalese regime. I have many intelligence inputs to confirm these linkages between the Vatican and the LTTE. Norway which had always played a role in the Sri Lankan peace process had a commanding influence over LTTE, especially over the northern faction of LTTE comprising Prabhakaran and co. Norwegian intelligence or NIS had not only given financial assistance but also had provided military training and logistical support to many northern LTTE command groups. I must state here that the western part of LTTE led by Karuna and co was less under the influence of these organisations and was more open to collaboration with India. There was also an unconfirmed report that Karuna was against the whole plot to assassinate Mr Rajiv Gandhi and had even tried in vain to contact Indian intelligence agencies about the impending attack. NIS and other Scandinavian intelligence agencies in the 80's and early 90's were also heavily under the influence of Opus Dei and other intelligence establishments of the Vatican. There were many reasons for this, primary being the fact Norway's borders with Soviet Russia and the Opus Dei's final plans to liberate the orthodox Russian church from the communists. Finally, we have very strong intelligence inputs about NIS having given the final order of a "hit" on Mr Rajiv Gandhi and also the requisite assurance of "no-attack" from India on LTTE in any eventuality. Thus Prabhakaran decided to assassinate Mr Rajiv Gandhi despite internal opposition and many apprehensions. What is even more curious was the timing of attack (which was also a pre-condition by the Norwegian controllers of LTTE as per many intercepts of Russian intelligence revealed to India much later). It was as if someone wanted to influence the ensuing general elections in India by assassinating a tall leader (they had the precedent of 1985 elections following Mrs Gandhi's killing). But, they only partly succeeded in that as congress could not get a majority on its own which was partially due to the fact that a part of those elections were held before the event and partially due to the changed political scenario of India in the beginning of the 90's.
After the assassination many intelligence teams were working on many number of theories and officially SIT (special investigation team) was formed to fast track the whole process and at least theoretically all these intelligence teams were supposed to be working under the aegis of the SIT. We were a group of 5 analysts working on the conspiracy angle (there were other groups of people also working on many conspiracy theories) leading up to the assassination. This is when we first stumbled upon the theory of the Vatican's interest in India's 1st family (the Gandhi family), which was earlier researched by a team previously working on the killing of senior Mrs Gandhi. Layer by layer we were gathering all the previous inputs and seemingly farfetched hypothesises put forward by many people in the past. Most of the inputs that I have talked about till now throughout this paper (part 1) were discovered and analysed during those 6 months when we worked together in that team. Mr P. V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister of India then and he had made it a point to get all the reports on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case delivered to him directly (with no intermediaries) at regular intervals. I remember it correctly, when we had sent our detailed analysis report with all the relevant intelligence inputs to the PMO on a Thursday afternoon. The report contained all the various theories that we had suggested but we had not reached any conclusions.
The first time it's a chance, the second time it's a coincidence and the third time it's a pattern. I guess it was just a matter of time before we would reach the conclusion that the sole beneficiary of all these scenarios and events was the one and only Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Mr Rajiv Gandhi. How 3 events (assassination & "unnatural" deaths of the three Gandhis) and the 4 scenarios involving 5 people who were either eliminated or completely sidelined leading to the final destiny of Mrs Sonia Gandhi is really a fascinating story. On Monday morning our team was dismantled, we were asked to work on another theory of CIA's involvement with the LTTE and about understanding the financial structuring of the Tamil Tigers and we were told in no uncertain terms to abandon our "farfetched" theories and to work on more "realistic" aspects that would provide more tangible results.
After that we never mentioned about "the Rajiv brief" or about what had happened in those 6 months. But I have been keeping track of events since then. One important loophole about the theory as explained till now would be the reluctance of Mrs Sonia Gandhi to accept the position of power after the 1991 elections. I would like to deal with the post Rajiv era in part 2 when I will hopefully explain all of those issues. I have formulated my own set of theories and have reached my own conclusions, but they will be elaborated upon in the next 2 parts of this treatise.