India: CIA assessed Rajiv Gandhi’s death… five years before his assassination
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India: CIA assessed Rajiv Gandhi’s death… five years before his assassination

THE U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had prepared a detailed report exploring possible scenarios in the event of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s death – five years before his actual assassination, according to information gleaned from the recently declassified trove of documents released by the security agency.

The 23-page brief titled India After Rajiv… was released in March 1986 and was meant only for CIA eyes, according to the files, which was highlighted by Asian Tribune this week.

The Bangkok-based online newspaper in its report said the “sanitised” brief was part of the 13 million pages worth of documents declassified by the CIA earlier this month.

It also acknowledged that the title of the brief was incomplete, and said it was prepared on the basis of inputs available to the CIA until January 1986.


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“Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faces at least an even chance of assassination before his tenure in office ends in 1989,” the first undeleted sentence of the report reads.

However, although Rajiv was assassinated at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991, a full five years after the report’s release, the CIA in 1986 believed then that his assassination was a “major near-term” threat.


A screengrab of the 23-page report. Image via Central Intelligence Agency.

On the day of the assassination, Rajiv who had just attended a public meeting, was approached by a woman identified as Thenmozhi Rajaratnam. The woman, upon coming close to Rajiv, detonated a bomb-laden belt, killing the leader and at least another 25 people. Authorities had blamed the Sri Lankan militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the attack.

In an analysis of the political situation while Rajiv was alive, the CIA projected the likely scenarios on the domestic and international political scene if there was a change in leadership, along with the predicted impact on India’s ties with the U.S. and the South Asian countries relations to the then USSR.

The analysis also assessed the threats on Rajiv’s life by some extremist groups and the repercussions 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.

The report also named P V Narasimha Rao and V P Singh as likely replacement candidates should Rajiv make an abrubt exit. In 1991, Rao was sworn in to office as Prime Minister.

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“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,” the document read in the section entitled ‘The Threat of Assassination: Stability in Jeopardy.’

The Asian Tribune also pointed out that since a large portion of the section was deleted, it is not known whether the analysis had addressed then concerns of Sri Lankan Tamil extremists.

However, another section of the report had a detailed account of mediation efforts by Rajiv to resolve “the conflict between militant Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese-dominated government in Colombo…” the news site reported.

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