Five years before Rajiv Gandhi was killed in 1991, the US Central Intelligence Agency had prepared a very detailed and thorough “brief” on what would happen if he is assassinated or makes an “abrupt departure” from the Indian political scene.
A 23-page report, titled “India After Rajiv …” was put out as early as in March 1986 for comments from other senior CIA officials. The “sanitised” report was declassified recently by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The report, whose complete title is not entirely available as it is part deleted, was prepared on the basis of inputs available to the CIA till January 1986.
The very first sentence of the report’s available (undeleted) page reads: “Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faces at least an even chance of assassination before his tenure in office ends in 1989.” It, however, later clearly said that “assassination is the major near-term threat” to him.
Over five years later, Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991.
The first section titled “Key Judgments” analyses and deliberates upon what likely scenario would emerge in the domestic and international political situation if there is a sudden change in leadership minus Rajiv Gandhi and the likely impact on India’s relations with the US, the then USSR and the region.
It also dealt with the threats posed to Gandhi’s life by various extremist groups at that time and the likely fallout of his murder.
“If Gandhi fell to a Sikh or Kashmiri Muslim assassin, widespread communal violence probably would erupt even if strong preventive security measures – including deployment of Army and paramilitary troops across northern India – were taken by the Indian President ……(deleted),” it said.
Interestingly, it also names P V Narasimha Rao and V P Singh, who could be the “interim successor” and “likely candidates” in case of sudden exit by Rajiv. Rao took over as the Prime Minister in 1991.
In a section, titled ‘The Threat of Assassination: Stability in Jeopardy’, the report says “In our view, there is at least an even chance in the next several years of an assassination, most likely by extremist Sikhs or disgruntled Kashmiri Muslims who have targeted Rajiv,” besides “a fanatical Hindu”.
Since a significant portion of this section is deleted, it is not clear whether Sri Lankan Tamil extremists were also dealt with in the analysis. However, another section deals in- depth with Rajiv’s mediation efforts to resolve “the conflict between militant Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese-dominated government in Colombo…”
Besides Gandhi’s possible assassination, the report also analysed various scenarios of his “abrupt departure” from the political scene before 1989.
“Although we believe assassination is the major near-term threat to Rajiv’s tenure, any of several other events could cause his abrupt departure from the political scene before 1989,” it said while listing out several other possibilities including “his death from natural causes or by accident”.
It ruled out the possibility of a decision by him “to resign out of frustration”, saying “we see no signs of this and believe it would be out of character”.
The CIA report also noted: “We suspect, however, that Rajiv would calculate — as we do — that he and his kin would be targets for extremist violence even if he left public office.”
In a section called “Implications for the United States”, the report says “We believe (Rajiv) Gandhi’s death would represent a significant blow to US interests, regardless of the circumstances of the succession.”
“…We believe Indo-US relations could also suffer as a result of domestic political changes following Rajiv’s assassination.”
The report assessed Rajiv’s policies ranging from dealing with extremists, foreign relations (including Sri Lankan Tamil issue) to promoting acquisition of selected foreign technology” among others, and their outcome.
“Although some of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s policies will continue to encounter serious resistance over the next several years, we believe his dominance of the Indian political scene is secure until at least the end of his present term of office in December 1989, barring his incapacitation or death,” it said.
The report also dealt with the possibility of a “national government” taking over in case of a sudden exit by Rajiv, while discounting the possibility of a military coup in such a scenario.
Several portions of the 23-page report were deleted before the CIA decided to release it under the Freedom of Information Act.