Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi 1
Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi
The stone mosaic that stands at the location where Rajiv Gandhiwas assassinated in Sriperumbudur
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the ex-PrimeMinister of India, occurred as a result of a suicidebombing in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, in Tamil Nadu,India on 21 May 1991. At least 14 others were also killed.It was carried out by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also knownas Dhanu. The attack was blamed on the LiberationTigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist organizationfrom Sri Lanka; at the time India had just ended itsinvolvement, through the Indian Peace Keeping Force, inthe Sri Lankan Civil War. Subsequent accusations ofconspiracy have been addressed by two commissions ofinquiry and have brought down at least one nationalgovernment.Wikipedia:Avoid weasel words
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Known as the "Path of Light", this was the path that Gandhi tookbefore being assassinated
Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning for the upcomingelections. On 21 May, after successfully campaigning inVisakhapatnam, his next stop was SriperumbudurTamilNadu. About two hours after arriving in Madras (nowChennai), Rajiv Gandhi was driven by motorcade in awhite Ambassador car to Sriperumbudur, stopping alongthe way at a few other election campaigning venues.
When he reached a campaign rally in Sriperumbudur, hegot out of his car and began to walk towards the daiswhere he would deliver a speech. Along the way, he wasgarlanded by many well-wishers, Congress party workersand school children. At 22:21 the assassin, Dhanu,approached and greeted him. She then bent down to touchhis feet and detonated an RDX explosive-laden belttucked below her dress. Gandhi, his assassin and 14others were killed in the explosion that followed. Theassassination was caught on film by a local photographer,whose camera and film was found at the site though thephotographer himself died in the blast.
Seven pillars, each featuring a human value surrounds the site of the blast,at the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial in Sriperumbudur.
The Supreme Court held that LTTE's decision ofeliminating Rajiv was prompted by his interview toSunday magazine (August 2128, 1990), where hesaid he would send the IPKF to disarm LTTE if hecame back to power again. Rajiv also defended thesigning of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord in the sameinterview. The LTTE decision to kill him wasperhaps aimed at preventing him from coming topower again. Thereafter, the Justice J S VermaCommission was formed to look into the securitylapses that led to the killing.
The final report, submitted in June 1992, concluded that the security arrangements for the former PM were adequatebut that the local Congress party leaders disrupted and broke these arrangements.The Narasimha Rao government initially rejected Vermas findings but later accepted it under pressure. However, noaction was taken on the recommendations of the Commission.Despite no action, the findings throw up vital questions that have been consistently raised by political analysts.Sources have indicated that Rajiv was time and again informed that there was a threat to his life and that he shouldnot travel to Tamil Nadu. In fact, then governor of Tamil Nadu Bhism Narayan Singh, broke his official protocol andtwice warned Rajiv about the threat to his life if he visited the state.
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Details revealed by Dr Subramanian Swamy in his book, Sri Lanka in Crisis: India's Options (2007), revealed that anLTTE delegation had met Rajiv Gandhi on March 5, 1991. Another delegation met him around March 14, 1991 atNew Delhi.Journalist Ram Bahadur Rai wrote that:
The message conveyed to Rajiv Gandhi by both these delegations was that there was no threat to his lifeand that he can travel to Tamil Nadu without fearing for his life. I did a series of articles after hisassassination that pointed out how, after these meetings, Rajiv became complacent about his securityand broke security rules in more than 40 rallies.
FuneralFollowing his assassination, Rajiv Gandhi's mutilated body was airlifted to New Delhi. From the Palam airport, hisbody was sent to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi for post-mortem, reconstruction andembalming.A state funeral was held for Rajiv Gandhi on 24 May 1991. His funeral was telecast live nationally andinternationally, and was attended by dignitaries from over 60 countries. He was cremated on the banks of the riverYamuna, near the cremation spot of his mother, brother, grandfather and Mahatma Gandhi. Today, the site where hewas cremated is known as Vir Bhumi.
InvestigationImmediately after the assassination, the Chandrasekhar government handed the investigation to CBI on May 24,1991. The agency created a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under D R Karthikeyan to find who killed Rajiv. TheSIT probe confirmed the role of LTTE in the assassination, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of India.The interim report of Justice Milap Chand Jain, looking into the conspiracy angle to the assassination, indicted theDMK for colluding with the LTTE. The report concluded that DMK provided sanctuary to the LTTE, which made iteasy for the rebels to assassinate Rajiv.The Commission report stated that the year 1989 signified "the perpetuation of the general political trend ofindulging the Tamil militants on Indian soil and tolerance of their wide-ranging criminal and anti-nationalactivities."The report also alleged that LTTE leaders in Jaffna were in possession of sensitive coded messagesexchanged between the Union government and the state government of DMK."There is evidence to show that,during this period, some of the most vital wireless messages were passed between the LTTE operatives based inTamil Nadu and Jaffna. These messages, which were decoded later, are directly related to the assassination of RajivGandhi," the report stated.The Congress subsequently brought down the United Front (UF) government of I K Gujralafter the report was leaked in November 1998. The party also demanded the removal of DMK from the UFgovernment, arguing that it had a hand in Rajiv's killing.After examining the SIT investigation report, Justice Verma Commission report and the Jain Commission report, onecan conclude that the Rajiv assassination was not a hit-and-run affair but was a meticulously planned operation thatinvolved actors beyond the LTTE.
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PerpetratorThe assassination was carried out by the LTTE suicide bomber Thenmozhi Rajaratnam also known as Dhanu. Later,the real name of the suicide bomber came to be known as Gayatri.
Supreme Court judgmentAs per the Supreme Court of India judgment, by Judge Thomas, the killing was carried out due to personal animosityof the LTTE chief Prabhakaran towards Rajiv Gandhi. Additionally, the Rajiv Gandhi administration hadantagonised other Tamil militant organisations like PLOTE for reversing the military coup in Maldives back in1988.
The judgement further cites the death of Thileepan in a hunger strike and the suicide by 12 LTTE cadres in a vesselin October 1987. The judgment while convicting the accused, four of them to death and others to various jail terms,states that absolutely no evidence existed that any one of the conspirators ever desired the death of any Indian otherthan Rajiv Gandhi, though several people were killed. Judge Wadhwa further states there is nothing on record toshow that the intention to kill Rajiv Gandhi was to overawe the Government. Hence it was held that it was not aterrorist act under TADA (Act). Judge Thomas further states that conspiracy was hatched in stages commencingfrom 1987 and that it spanned several years. The Special Investigation team of India's premier special investigationagency CBI was not able to pinpoint when the decision to kill Rajiv Gandhi was taken.
TrialThe trial was conducted under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA). The designated TADA court in Chennai gave death sentences to all the 26 accused. This created a storm in India. Legal experts were stunned. Human rights groups protested as the trial did not meet standards of a free trial. The trial was held behind closed doors, in camera courts, and the non-disclosure of identity of witnesses was maintained. Ms A. Athirai, an accused, was only 17 years old when she was arrested. Under TADA an accused can appeal only to the Supreme Court. Appeal to the High Court is not allowed as in normal law. Confessions given by the accused to the Superintendent of Police are taken as evidence against the accused under TADA. Under TADA the accused could be convicted on the basis of evidence that would have been insufficient for conviction by an ordinary court under normal Indian law. In the Rajiv Gandhi case confessions by accused formed a major part of the evidence in the judgement against them which they later claimed was taken under duress. On appeal to the Supreme Court, only four of the accused were sentenced to death and the others to various jail terms.Arrested on June 14, 1991, she was sentenced to death, along with 25 others, by a special court here on January 28, 1998. However, the SC confirmed death only 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 impriosonment.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.Nalini was earlier given the death sentence. On the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi's widow and Congress president Sonia Gandhi petition for clemency for the sake of Nalini's dau