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...”