Hopefully, time will reveal H: truth about the Syed Modi murder case. What is beyond dispute is that the CBI discarded norms during its conduct of the investigation by leaking out bits of information against Dr. Sanjay Singh in a brazen effort to tarnish his reputation in the press much before charges had been leveled against him. There is little surprise therefore that wide section of public opinion view the investigation as part of the Government’s motivated vendetta against Dr. Sanjay singh. It looked too much like the notorious police practice, so aptly described by S. Mulgaokar in his recent article, in which the solution is reached first and details of evidence are filled in later.
However, it is not the purpose of this article to dwell on the Syed Modi murder case. I would merely like to draw attention to the outburst by Sanjay Singh, widely quoted in the press, when obviously harassed and under great stress; he was asked by the press about certain confessions purportedly made by a witness under interrogation by the CBI. Sanjay Singh retorted that if he could get Rajiv Gandhi for just a few hours to be interrogated by the CBI he could extract his confession for complicity in the murder of Indira Gandhi.
Indira Gandhi murder
It was extraordinary outburst. No less extraordinary was the almost deafening silence with which it was received by even Congress (D) circles. Apart, possibly from the effort to hustle through Parliament with panicky haste the reprehensible Defamation Bill there was no. other reaction by the Government. Could the Defamation Bill be attributed to Sanjay Singh’s outburst? And does not the entire episode betray uncomfortable misgivings embedded deep in the public mind about the nature of the conspiracy surrounding the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
If the public does entertain secret doubts about Mrs. Gandhi’s murder, it cannot be blamed. The investigations and trial that followed the murder have been truly remarkable. That the assassinations of a prime minister not an ordinary prime minister but a world figure, should have extracted such a lackadaisical response from the Government is legitimate matter for public speculation.
The public cannot be blamed for wondering why the findings of the Thakkar Commission set up to probe the events attending Mrs. Gandhi’s murder, has not been revealed. The Thakkar Commission Report was not made available even to the court in which the alleged murderers of Mrs. Gandhi were on trial. What considerations could outweigh the need to explore every avenue to get at the truth behind the murder of India’s late Prime Minister?
Not only that, prime witnesses who were present at the spot when Mrs. Gandhi was shot dead, were not allowed to be cross examined in court. Mr. R.K, Dhawan was one of them. Satwant Singh, facing death sentence for Mrs. Gandhi’ murder, in his confession recorded before Bharat Bhushan, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate said: “Nobody suspected Beant Singh as he was having close friendship with R.K. Dhawan, the Secretary to Prime Minister.”
Further on in the same confession, Satwant Singh stated: “He (Beant Singh) repeatedly asked me to get myself posted by all means in the morning of 3lst itself. He further asked me to take special care that no bullet hits Shri R.K_Dhawan…”
It might be recalled that RK. Dhawan was approached by investigators on behalf of the Thakkar Commission. According to one version, Dhawan advised the investigation that if he was summoned by the Thakkar Commission he would not keep back anything but reveal all he knew. Subsequently, he was not summoned to appear before the Commission.
Since Dhawan was removed from the Prime Minister’s office, he has been leading a curious existence. He has been kept under surveillance. There has been speculation in the press about his rehabilitation. Dhawan became active on behalf of the Prime Minister during the crisis involving Giani Zail Singh when he was in Rashtrapati Bhawan. But for the rest, it appears that he is being kept in cold storage as far as the Prime Minister is concerned. Dhawan has not been recalled, but he is not being persecuted. It is difficult to accept that R.K. Dhawan was prevented from appearing in the court trying Mrs. Gandhi’s assassins for his own protection.
It is quite extraordinary that this man, who was Mrs, Gandhi’s close confidant, who was present when she was killed; whom Beant Singh according to Satwant Singh knew well; whom Beant Singh, again according to Satwant Singh, took particular care not to hurt in the shooting, should not have been cross examined by the court, The point is not at all that the man had anything to do with the murder. But that he obviously had to be examined as a witness, He wasn’t, what kind of trial was this?
After killing Mrs. Gandhi, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh put down their weapons and surrendered. Disarmed, they were taken to the [TBP Guard Room. Both were made to sit on chairs. After a while, the police opened fire on these unarmed assassins. Twelve bullets hit Satwant, severely wounding him, while Beant Singh, the main figure in the conspiracy died on the spot. There has been no satisfactory explanation about why the police killed in cold blood this unarmed assassin, a valuable witness who could have cleared the mystery. Was he silenced from revealing the truth? None of the police personnel, who shot the disarmed and unresisting assassins, was prosecuted for the crime. What kind of investigation was this?
What kind of compulsions could have persuaded the Government to amend the law in order to prevent publication of the Thakkar Commission Report, prepared precisely to lay before the public the findings of a body functioning under the Commissions of Inquiry Act? What could be the contents of that Report? The public cannot be blamed for harbouring uneasy doubts. These are the strange events in the light of which must be seen in the unfortunate case of Kehar Singh, one of the accused in the conspiracy case, sentenced to death. There is every reason to believe that Kehar Singh is innocent. A man is presumed innocent until proven guilty. No decisively clear evidence has been marshaled for prove Kehar Singh’s guilt. On the contrary, a reasonable interpretation of the evidence collected suggests that Kehar Singh is being punished merely on suspicion unsubstantiated by hard evidence,
In fact, it is a case based on no evidence. Kehar Singh and his wife were on regular visiting terms with Beant Singh and his wife. In September, 1984 Kehar Singh invited Beant and his wife to the birthday celebrations of a grandchild. There, provocative speeches and songs were delivered and sung. Even Justice Shetty has acknowledged that there was no evidence to suggest that Kehar Singh had deliberately exposed Beant Singh to provocative bhajans. Was this proof of involvement in the conspiracy to murder Mrs. Gandhi?
Bimal Khalsa’s evidence
The second incident noted by the honourable judges was the visit of Kehar Singh to Beant Singh’s residence on October 17, 1984. Relying on the deposition of Bimal Khalsa, Beant’s wife Kehar and Beant were together on the roof of the house for fifteen to eighteen minutes. Bimal was not with them, she did not hear a word of what they said. Amazingly, from this alone Justice Shetty concludes: “It plainly indicates that Kehar Singh and Beant Singh were combined and conspiring together.”
Note the observation of Justice Oza about this incident, “As far as the incident on 17th October is concerned, Bimal Khalsa in clear terms stated that Kehar Singh and Beant Singh had secret talks. She wanted to know it, but she was not given to understand. Apparently Kehar Singh being an elderly person did not indicate to her about their plan. If the attempt of Kehar Singh was to dissuade Beant Singh then there was no occasion for him to keep the matter secret from his wife. On the contrary he should have indicated to his wife also what Beant Singh was planning. These talks therefore as proved by Bimal Khalsa go a long way in establishing Kehar Singh being a party to the conspiracy.
Do they? Apart from guesswork, and not very credible guesswork at that, there is little that the learned judge has summoned. Kehar Singh’s reticence before his wife, in case he tried to dissuade Beant Singh, could well have arisen from the natural inclination of old fashioned people not to take into confidence women who they take to be are habitually garrulous.
The third incident related to the visit to the Golden Temple by Beant Singh, Kehar Singh and their respective wives. The primary purpose of the visit was to attend a relative’s marriage. No. direct evidence of a conspiracy to kill Mrs. Gandhi has been culled from this visit. Only the fact, that for some time the two males kept aloof from the women and children while at the Temple. From. this can one conclude that a conspiracy to kill Mrs. Gandhi was being hatched? According to Justice Shetty, apparently yes. This is what the learned judge observes in his judgment: “What is significant to note herein is about the relative character of Kehar Singh and Beant Singh. Even at the most sacred place they remained isolated from their wives and children…No wonder birds of the same feather fly together…”
Passing a death sentence is not a light matter. Can such a judgement be made on the basis of suspicion and guesswork, in the absence of a single piece of hard evidence involving Kehar Singh in the conspiracy to kill Mrs Gandhi? I suspect that few people would bother. Dispensing justice to Kehar Singh is not a popular cause. And the death of a leader as popular and important as Mrs. Gandhi would have so numbed the senses of most as to render inconsequential the death of one more Sikh, a friend of the assassin, even though his own guilt in the conspiracy might not have been established. Sometimes the sheer enormity of an event can lead to such callousness. And the belief that some punitive action has been taken, even though there might be the lurking doubt that the real culprits have not been apprehended, does offer comfort of a kind. But responsible sections of the citizenry should reflect. If the State can respond like this generalize to equate assassins with their uninvolved friends and sentence to death both without discrimination, how is it different from the terrorist? He too is the victim of such prejudice and generalisation. One can only urge upon the President to revoke Kehar Singh’s death sentence,