Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: A Dark Day in Indian History

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the 6th Prime Minister of India, remains one of the most tragic and pivotal events in the history of modern India. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. His assassination not only shocked the nation but also had profound implications on Indian politics and the fight against terrorism. Here is a detailed account of the events leading up to, the assassination itself, and its aftermath.

Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India in 1984 following the assassination of his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Initially reluctant to enter politics, Rajiv, a former commercial pilot, stepped into leadership during a period of national crisis. His tenure as Prime Minister was marked by significant economic and technological reforms but also by controversies, including the Bofors scandal.

Rajiv Gandhi’s involvement in the Sri Lankan civil war became a crucial factor in his assassination. In 1987, India intervened in the Sri Lankan conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). This intervention was deeply resented by the LTTE, leading to Rajiv Gandhi becoming a target for their wrath.

On the evening of May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning for the upcoming national elections in the town of Sriperumbudur. As he was walking towards the podium to address a public meeting, he was approached by a woman named Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also known as Dhanu. Pretending to bend down to touch his feet, she detonated an explosive-laden belt under her dress, killing herself, Rajiv Gandhi, and 14 others.

The impact of the blast was devastating, leaving bodies dismembered and the area in chaos. Rajiv Gandhi’s body was identified only by his sneakers and a gold ring he was wearing. The assassination was captured by a local photographer, whose last photograph provided crucial evidence in the investigation.

Also Read:- Assassination of Indira Gandhi: The Aftermath of Operation Blue Star

The assassination was immediately attributed to the LTTE. The subsequent investigation, known as the Jain Commission, confirmed the involvement of the LTTE and identified several conspirators, including the mastermind Sivarasan, who committed suicide along with his accomplices to avoid capture.

The investigation revealed a well-planned conspiracy involving several LTTE operatives and sympathizers. It also highlighted lapses in Rajiv Gandhi’s security arrangements, which allowed the suicide bomber to get so close to him.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi had significant repercussions for India and its politics. The Congress Party, which he led, received a sympathy wave in the elections that followed but failed to secure a majority. P.V. Narasimha Rao eventually became Prime Minister, ushering in a new era of economic liberalization.

On an international level, the assassination brought global attention to the LTTE and their methods. It underscored the need for stronger counter-terrorism measures and prompted a reassessment of India’s foreign policy concerning Sri Lanka.

In 1998, a special court in India sentenced 26 people to death for their roles in the assassination. However, the sentences were later commuted for many, and by 2014, the Supreme Court of India commuted the death sentences of the remaining convicts to life imprisonment.

The legal proceedings related to the assassination have continued to generate debate and controversy. In 2018, the Tamil Nadu government recommended the release of the remaining convicts, a decision that sparked mixed reactions across the country.

Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination remains a stark reminder of the dangers posed by terrorism and political violence. His legacy is marked by both his contributions to India’s modernization and the tragic end to his life. The Rajiv Gandhi Memorial at Sriperumbudur stands as a solemn tribute to him, commemorating his life and the tragic events of May 21, 1991.

In retrospect, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi significantly shaped India’s political landscape and its approach to national security. It highlighted the vulnerability of political leaders and the profound impact of international conflicts on domestic politics.

The story of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination is not just a tale of political violence but also one of the enduring quest for justice and the ongoing challenge of combating terrorism in a complex and interconnected world.

Who was Rajiv Gandhi?

Rajiv Gandhi was the 6th Prime Minister of India, serving from 1984 to 1989. He was the eldest son of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Feroze Gandhi. Initially a commercial pilot, he entered politics after the tragic death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi.

When and where did the assassination occur?

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur, a town in Tamil Nadu, India.

How was Rajiv Gandhi assassinated?

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber named Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also known as Dhanu, who belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). She detonated an explosive-laden belt while approaching Rajiv Gandhi during an election campaign rally.

Who was responsible for the assassination?

The LTTE, a militant organization from Sri Lanka, was responsible for the assassination. The group sought retaliation for India’s intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war through the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).

What was the motive behind the assassination?

The primary motive was retaliation against Rajiv Gandhi for his role in sending the IPKF to Sri Lanka, which the LTTE viewed as a direct threat to their cause.

How did the investigation unfold?

The investigation, led by the Jain Commission, confirmed the involvement of the LTTE. It identified key conspirators, including Sivarasan, who later committed suicide along with other accomplices to evade capture.

What were the immediate political consequences of the assassination?

The assassination led to a sympathy wave for the Congress Party in the subsequent elections. However, the party did not secure a majority, leading to the formation of a coalition government with P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister.

Were the perpetrators brought to justice?

In 1998, a special court sentenced 26 people to death for their roles in the assassination. Over the years, many of these sentences were commuted. By 2014, the Supreme Court of India had commuted the death sentences of the remaining convicts to life imprisonment.

What is the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial?

The Rajiv Gandhi Memorial is located in Sriperumbudur at the site of the assassination. It serves as a tribute to Rajiv Gandhi, commemorating his life and the tragic events of his assassination.

How did the assassination impact India’s approach to terrorism?

The assassination underscored the need for robust counter-terrorism measures and highlighted the vulnerabilities of political leaders. It led to a reassessment of security protocols and India’s foreign policy towards Sri Lanka.

What was the reaction of the international community to the assassination?

The assassination drew widespread condemnation from the international community. It brought global attention to the activities of the LTTE and highlighted the threat posed by militant organizations.

What legacy did Rajiv Gandhi leave behind?

Rajiv Gandhi is remembered for his efforts in modernizing India, particularly through economic and technological reforms. His tragic assassination remains a poignant reminder of the risks faced by political leaders and the ongoing struggle against terrorism.

Has there been any controversy surrounding the legal proceedings?

Yes, the legal proceedings have been controversial, especially concerning the commutation of death sentences and the Tamil Nadu government’s recommendation in 2018 to release the remaining convicts, which sparked mixed reactions.

What lessons have been learned from the assassination?

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi highlighted the importance of intelligence and security in preventing terrorist attacks. It also emphasized the need for comprehensive strategies to address the root causes of terrorism and political violence.

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