A stone mural of Rajiv Gandhi stands witness at Sri Perumbudur, Tamil Nadu as a remembrance of the black day of his assassination on May 21, 1991 by an LTTE suicide bomber Dhanu. Pushing her way through the crowds, the non-descript Dhanu bent down and touched his feet and detonated an RDX explosive laden belt hidden under her clothing. The explosion sent blood and chunks of flesh flying in a gory bloodbath. Rajiv Gandhi’s body was blown to pieces……identified only because of his Lotto sneakers.
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi is perhaps a watershed moment in the political history of the nation. The Gandhi family had offered its second martyr to the country. Rajiv Gandhi was only 46 years old at that time. It was also ironical that like his mother Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by the very same people that he wanted to protect – i.e. Tamils of Sri Lanka.
The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), founded in 1976 by V. Prabhakaran was a militant organization, formed to fight for the creation of an independent Tamil state in north and east Sri Lanka. The deaths of hundreds of Tamil civilians by the hands of Sri Lankan armed forces led to mediation and subsequent intervention by India under Rajiv Gandhi who sent Indian troops – the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) to maintain peace in the region. However the constant fighting in the region gave rise to new complexities and saw the IPKF mainly fighting the Tamil led LTTE itself. Friends became foes…Allies became Assassins.
As per the SIT (Special Investigative Tribunal – the premier investigation team of the CBI) charge sheet, the main reason for killing the former Prime Minister was the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of 1987 signed by him and his counterpart J.R. Jayawardene. The Accord dashed all hopes for the LTTE towards its Tamil cause and of India’s intervention in the matter. It called for the total disarmament of all Tamil military groups and the gradual withdrawal of the IPKF. The LTTE was not reconciled to this new development. It had already lost hundreds of its cadres to the IPKF and there was no way of its cause of Tamil Eelam could be fulfilled. The defeat of the Congress in the 1989 elections eased the situation for the Tigers but did not end the personal animosity between the Tigers especially its leader V. Prabhakaran and Rajiv Gandhi. The final clincher was an interview where Rajiv Gandhi told the press that if he was voted to power again in 1991, he would send the IPKF once again to Sri Lanka.
The plot to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi involved many but the core group comprised of the LTTE chief Prabahkaran, his trusted lieutenants – Sivarasan, Murugan, Baby Subramaniam, Muthuraja, the suicide bomber Dhanu, Shubha, Haribabu and other local recruits mainly Bhagyanathan, his sister Nalini and mother Padma. There were all together 26 accused and all of them were awarded the death sentence by the TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act) Court in 1998.
Human rights activists were stunned! It made big news internationally. On appeal to the Supreme Court however, only 4 accused were sentenced to death including Nalini who was pregnant at that time. 19 were freed and 3 were given life sentences. However, upon the mercy petition to Sonia Gandhi, Nalini’s sentence was later commuted to life for the sake of her young daughter Harithra.
There were others suspected of being involved – the controversial Godman Chandraswami, Sikh militants and LTTE sympathizers in Tamil Nadu from the DMK. Some theories also quote the involvement of international organizations.
In the meanwhile, the situation in Sri Lanka worsened for the LTTE. The Sri Lankan Govt. launched major offensives from 2006 onwards. Prabhakaran and his entire family were killed in the encounter in 2009 bringing a final closure to the conflict.
In India, recently in 2014, the Jayalalitha led AIADMK Govt. did attempt to release the seven convicts in 2014. But on the Centre’s appeal to the Supreme Court, it was held that the Tamil Nadu Govt. did not have the powers to release convicts sentenced under a Central law. The seven convicts are in jail and perhaps with their deaths alone will India see a final closure to the event. Till then, the seven stand witness to the event….. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.