Under unprecedented pressure from India’s political opposition and press, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi today was forced to release a 3-year-old investigative report that implicates one of his closest personal aides in the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi, in 1984.
The report, released to the Indian Parliament after 10 days of political flip-flopping that critics say has seriously eroded Gandhi’s credibility, plunged the government into its worst crisis since Gandhi succeeded his mother as prime minister four years ago.
Based on three months of interviews and research by Indian Supreme Court Justice M. P. Thakkar, the 314-page report, dated February, 1986, states, “There are strong indicators and numerous factors which warrant grave suspicion as regard the complicity and involvement of R. K. Dhawan, special assistant to the prime minister, in the conspiracy to assassinate the late prime minister.”
Within weeks of taking office after his mother’s slaying, Gandhi fired Rajinder Kumar Dhawan, 52, who had served as his mother’s closest aide until her assassination. But the younger Gandhi, facing a serious erosion of his political and personal popularity, rehired Dhawan last month in an effort to pull his ruling party together before national elections are held in December.
At the time of the assassination on Oct. 31, 1984, Dhawan was standing just a few feet away from Indira Gandhi in the garden of her New Delhi house when two of her Sikh bodyguards opened fire with automatic weapons and shot her more than 40 times.
The newly released report by the Thakkar commission, which was similar in scope and secrecy to the Warren Commission’s investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, found that Dhawan had contradicted himself in several statements to investigators; that he had been instrumental in re-posting Gandhi’s two assassins to be her bodyguards months before the slaying, and that he failed to tend to the prime minister after she fell to the ground in a pool of blood.
Despite a flood of rumors at the time that Dhawan may have been involved in a larger assassination conspiracy, Rajiv Gandhi’s government publicly blamed only the bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, along with a close associate, Kehar Singh.