Thirty-one years ago, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi – who was campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections – was assassinated. He left the country and his party in shock, traumatized his family and confidants, changed the course of national politics and caused a major rift in regional geopolitics.
Chand Joshi of HT accompanied Gandhi in his election campaign. From Sriperumbudur, he reported that the hand of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was suspected, a fact which was later confirmed. The report details the brutality with which the suicide bomber caused death and destruction at the site.
Capturing the final moments of Gandhi’s life, HT reported: “Just before he left Madras for Sriperumbudur, a beaming Mr. Gandhi, who was campaigning across the country to regain power, told journalists than Congress – I would return to power in the Center alone. He looked extremely cheerful and jubilant and mingled with the press in an easy and relaxed manner. On the way to the rally, Rajiv Gandhi paid homage to a statue of his late mother and former prime minister, Indira Gandhi.
Rajiv Gandhi was late when he arrived at the scene – and was greeted by supporters. And that’s when the crowd heard an explosion. The former Indian Prime Minister was dead. “Mr Gandhi’s body was identified based on eyewitnesses who spotted his white sports shoes and part of the back of his skull which remained intact.”
The air was filled with smoke and the stench of burning flesh, as several women in bloodstained clothes lamented, “They killed Rajiv.
Later that night, the government made an official announcement. “The government regrets to announce the death of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in a bomb blast at 10:10 p.m. this evening,” Chief Information Officer I Ramamohan Rao told reporters. Party spokesman Pranab Mukherjee said the bomb that killed Gandhi and several others in Sriperumbudur was concealed in the bouquet presented to the former prime minister.
HT reported: “In the city of Madras, riots broke out as soon as news of Mr. Gandhi’s assassination spread. Late night moviegoers went wild as they damaged vehicles. The city police asked for reinforcements and the army was also asked to be ready.
On the front page, HK Dua, then editor of HT, wrote: “The brutal assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in a bomb attack in Tamil Nadu is a blow to the nation at a time when it is caught in an intense political uncertainty. Here is a man striving hard along his comeback trail promising stability to those who seek it.
The article stated that the murder, which occurred in the midst of the Lok Sabha elections, placed special responsibility in the hands of President R Venkataraman and expressed his support for the political decisions of the national leaders.
“The government must do all it can to unearth the conspiracy that took the life of Rajiv Gandhi. These elements may strike at the root of Indian democracy and the stability of our political system.” The play also placed a special responsibility on the people, spread across the political spectrum in India, to reject the culture of violence.