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Sunday, 19 May 2013





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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 assassination

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 campaigning venues.

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.

Security arrangements

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 without fear.

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 trusted.

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.

Capital punishment

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 prison.

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 life imprisonment.

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 request.

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.

Legal remedies

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 now.

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 Tamil Nadu.

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.



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