When Tigers killed Rajiv Gandhi 22 years ago...
It was a great moment for the nation when President Mahinda Rajapaksa
graced the Victory Day celebrations at Galle Face Green yesterday. He
recalled those horrified days during which the masses had been subjected
to untold privations due to the LTTE's ruthless terrorism.
Rajiv Gandhi mobbed by supporters
The LTTE was never interested during which in negotiating for a
peaceful solution. Instead, they used the period they held peace talks
to reinforce and strengthen their military capability. It is regrettable
that certain countries have not understood this bitter truth and
continue to intimidate Sri Lanka.
It is an open secret how LTTE cadres trained in South India during
the early stages of the terror outfit. But none would have thought the
same terrorist outfit would claim the life of an Indian leader, former
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, exactly 22 years ago.
On May 21, 1991, the ex-Indian premier and 18 persons were killed by
an LTTE female suicide bomber during an election rally in Sriperumbudur,
30 miles off the Tamil Nadu capital Chennai.
However, certain South Indian politicians appear to have forgotten
that brutal assassination. DMK chief M Karunanidhi recently asked the
Centre to reconsider the death sentence awarded to three people in the
Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and four associates of sandalwood dacoit
Veerappan, all now in Tamil Nadu jails.
The DMK chief has also asked the J. Jayalalitha led Tamil Nadu state
government to pass a Cabinet resolution to save the three men convicted
for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Son of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi was a
much loved and respected politician not only in India but world over and
was set to become the Indian Prime Minister for a second time.
The suicide attack which claimed the life of Rajiv Gandhi was carried
out by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also known as Dhanu.
About two hours after arriving in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai,
then known as Madras, on May 21, 1991, Rajiv was driven by motorcade to
Sriperrumbudur, stopping along on its way at a few other election
The misfortune struck after Rajiv reached a campaign rally in
Sriperumbudur, where he got out of his white ambassador car and began to
walk towards the dais to address party supporters. On his way from the
motorcade to the platform, Rajiv was garlanded by many die-hard party
supporters and well-wishers.
The Tigers were so smart that they had planned to use the security
lapses to creep in one of its suicide bombers as a well-wisher to
garland the former Indian Prime Minister and the Tiger woman mingled
with Congress Party supporters and schoolchildren until night.
When the clock reed exactly 10.21 on that fateful night, Dhanu,
trapped with a powerful bomb on her body, approached Rajiv and greeted
him. She then bent down to touch his feet and detonated an RDX
explosive-laden suicide belt, tucked inside her dress. It took no time
to claim the live of the Indian leader and 14 others.
The assassination was caught on film by a local photographer, whose
camera and film was found at the site though the cameraman himself died
in the blast.
The Indian Supreme Court also held that the LTTE's decision to
assassinate Gandhi was prompted by his interview published in the Sunday
magazine edition of 21-28 August 1990, where he said he would send the
IPKF to disarm the LTTE if he came back to power again. The governor of
Tamil Nadu Bhishma Narain Singh, broke protocol and twice warned Rajiv
Gandhi about the threat to his life if he visited the state.
The final report of the committee that probed the assassination
submitted in June 1992, concluded that the security arrangements for the
former PM were adequate but the over enthusiastic local leaders of the
Congress party had disrupted it and not followed the arrangements.
It was reported that an LTTE delegation had met Gandhi on March 5,
and on March 14, 1991 in New Delhi. According to Indian journalist Ram
Bahadur Rai, the message conveyed to Rajiv by these delegations was that
there was no threat to his life and that he can travel to Tamil Nadu
Following the two successive meeting with LTTE delegations, Rajiv had
became complacent about his security and had broken security rules in
more than 40 of his election rallies. That alone proves that the LTTE
was the world's most ruthless terrorist outfit which could not be
Gandhi's mutilated body was airlifted to the Indian capital New Delhi
from Palam airport, and the post-mortem was held at the All India
Institute of Medical Sciences. India afforded a state funeral to its
former leader on May 24, 1991 and his funeral was telecast live
nationally and internationally, and was attended by dignitaries from
over 60 countries, including Sri Lanka.
Rajiv's body was cremated on the banks of the river Yamuna, close to
the graves of his mother Indira, brother Sanjay, grandfather and
Mahathma Gandhi at a site known as Vir Bhumi, or the land of heroes.
The much looked-forward to Rajiv Gandhi trial was conducted under the
Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) of India at a designated
court in Chennai which gave the capital punishment to all 26 accused.
The historic ruling took some Indian legal experts by storm as certain
human rights groups protested as the trial did not meet required
standards of a free hearing.
The Gandhi trial was held behind closed doors, in camera courts, and
the non-disclosure of identity of witnesses was maintained. A. Athirai,
an accused, was only 17-years-old when she was arrested. Under the TADA
an accused can appeal only to the Supreme Court and appeal to the High
Court was is not allowed as in normal law.
Following a subsequent appeal, the Indian Supreme Court imposed death
sentence only to four of the accused while different jail terms to the
others who had been convicted on June 14, 1991.
Though the main accused was sentenced to death, along with 25 others,
by a special court in India on January 28, 1998, the Indian Supreme
Court confirmed the death penalty on four of the convicts, including
Nalini, on May 11, 1999. S Nalini Sriharan is the lone surviving member
of the five-member squad behind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and is
serving life imprisonment.
Nalini, who was a close friend of an LTTE operative known as V
Sriharan alias Murugan, another convict in the case who has been
sentenced to death, later gave birth to a girl, Harithra Murugan in
Following an intervention of Rajiv Gandhi's widow and Congress Party
President Sonia Gandhi, as a result of petition for clemency for the
sake of Nalini's daughter in 2000, the death sentence was commuted to
Nalini was being treated as 'A' class convict from September 10, 1999
till the privilege was withdrawn in May 2010 after a mobile phone was
allegedly recovered from her cell during a surprise search operation at
the prison premises.
She 'regrets' the killing of the former Prime Minister and claims
that the real conspirators have not been booked yet. Then who are the
'real conspirators' whom Nalini claim to be instrumental in Gandhi
killing? Has any effort been made to punish them?
The President of India had rejected the clemency pleas of Murugan and
two others on death row, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan and A G
Perarivalan alias Arivu in August 2011. The execution of the three
convicts was scheduled for September 9, 2011.
Following the intervention of the Madras High Court, their execution
was put off by eight weeks based on their petitions. Nalini was shifted
back to Vellore prison from Puzhal prison amidst tight security on
September 7, 2011. In 2010, Nalini had moved the Madras High Court,
seeking a release as she had served a jail term of more than 20 years.
Though her lawyers argued that even life convicts were released after
14 years of prison term and asked why Nalini had to spend more than two
decade in jail? However, the state government had turned down her
However, the execution of Afzal Guru, the second high-voltage hanging
in three months, has sent shivers down the spine of advocates involved
in a last-ditch legal battle to save the three death convicts in the
Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, Murugan, Perarivalan and Santhan.
Decrying the secrecy shrouding the operation, which started when the
President rejected Afzal's mercy petition last February, advocate and
former special public prosecutor of the human rights court here, V
Kannadasan, had said the state should not deprive anyone of their right
to exhaust legal remedies available to them. Had the rejection been duly
communicated to Afzal, he would have challenged the validity of the
rejection order which had come more than 11 years later.
Meanwhile, former Indian judge K.T. Thomas who headed a bench that
imposed the death sentence on four men for the killing of the former
prime minister Rajiv Gandhi said that the convicts should not be hanged
Justice Thomas had said that since Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan
had spent 22 years in prison, hanging them now would amount to punishing
them twice for the same crime. The three men are at the Vellore jail in
All four listed in the case, including Nalini, were charged with
contributing to the killing. Among those wanted for the assassination
were the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed at
Nandikadal lagoon by Sri Lanka's Security Forces on May 18, 2009.
Whatever is said and done it was the LTTE which was initially
fostered on Indian soil that eliminated an Indian leader. Hence, we
strongly believe that India would not show any mercy to LTTE ghosts and
Tiger sympathisers in Tamil Nadu.
The outgoing Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Ashok K. Kantha
has said that India would never hurt Sri Lanka's feelings.
He had said that India was pleased with Sri Lanka's progress in the
aftermath of 2009 humanitarian victory. We strongly believe that India
would respect Sri Lanka's sovereignty and territorial integrity and
would leave no room for terrorism in the region.