LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi 29 years ago | Sunday Observer

LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi 29 years ago

24 May, 2020
Moments before Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated
Moments before Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated

What a sentimental moment it was for the nation when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa graced the Victory Day celebrations at Battaramulla last Tuesday. It recalled those horrified days during which the masses had been subjected to untold hardships due to the LTTE’s ruthless terrorism. 

It was an important milestone in the history of Sri Lanka, marking the 11th anniversary of completely defeating separatist terrorism which had been a curse for the country for nearly 30 years. Most importantly, it was an emotional moment for President Gotabaya Rakapaksa who had actively contributed to the battle against terrorism for three decades -  nearly 20 years as an active officer of Sri Lanka Army and another 10 years as the Defence Secretary, guiding the security forces in the battle against terrorism.

The President gave a firm assurance that he would not leave room for attempts to discredit or destroy the dignity of our war heroes who made countless sacrifices to bring peace to the country. He said that under his administration, the country will take every measure always to protect the dignity of the heroic forces.

He said the he will not allow anyone to exert undue pressure or harass the valiant Security Forces. Going another step forward, the President clearly said that if any international body or organisation continuously targets our country and the war heroes, using baseless allegations, he will not hesitate to withdraw Sri Lanka from the membership of such bodies or organisations.

The LTTE was never interested 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 still 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 29 years ago.

Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi

On May 21, 1991, the former 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 still appear to have forgotten that brutal assassination. But the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India from 2014 has turned a new chapter.

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 read 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 life 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 August 21-28, 1990, where he said he would send the IPKF to disarm the LTTE if he came back to power again. The then 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  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 meetings 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 at that time.

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 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 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, and the non-disclosure of identity of witnesses was maintained. Following a subsequent appeal, the Indian Supreme Court imposed the death sentence only on four of the accused while different jail terms were imposed on 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.

Among those wanted for the assassination were the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed at the Nandikadal lagoon by Sri Lanka’s Security Forces on May 18, 2009.

Nevertheless 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. As former Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ashok K. Kantha had said India would never hurt Sri Lanka’s feelings.

As President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said, the motive of the extremists was to divide us. If the LTTE were successful in their attempt, our history would have taken a different course. If that had continued, Sri Lanka could have well become a country where communities hate each other, engage in continuous battles for borders, fear of war is a common norm of life and another hapless and divided country.

Thanks to the Security Forces taking a bold step to eradicate terrorism, we are a free nation now. The honour of liberating the country from this catastrophe should be given to all our heroic troops who fought for peace in our country for nearly three decades.