The politics of ironies: Getting away with assassination of a former PM

Tamil Nadu government has recently recommended the governor, Banwarilal Purohit to accept the clemency petition under article 161 by one of the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi, AG Perarivalan. Article 161 of constitution deals with the jurisdiction of governor and grants governor the power to provide respite, suspend or to commute any punishment, be it death penalty or life imprisonment if a convict(penalised by state law) sends a mercy petition.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a Suicide bomb-blast on 21 May 1991, by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam AKA Dhanu, sent by the Liberation of Tamil Tiger Eelam, a secessionist and terrorist organization, that time active in Sri Lanka. The whole operation was coordinated in the forests of Jaffna by LTTE chief Prabhakaran. The whole conspiracy was rooted in events emerging from ‘87 after Rajiv Gandhi had signed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accords, and sent Indian Troops for peace negotiations in Sri Lanka, to bail out a civil war-struck Sri Lanka.

BJP was threatening the central government of withdrawing support and rise of Congress back to power in the centre was inevitable. This meant re-implementation of Indian Peacekeeping Forces in Sri Lanka and a more aggravated crackdown on LTTE handles active in India, especially south.

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After Congress withdrew the support from Chandra Shekhar’s SJP(R) government, and India was pulled into re-elections merely after 16 months of previous Lok Sabha elections. There couldn’t have been a better time for LTTE to have struck Rajiv Gandhi, as he was stripped of PM level security and he was vulnerable during the constituency-to-constituency election campaign.

At Sriperumbudur, all the events culminated in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi along with many others and more than 40 people were critically injured. In August this year when a question was asked regarding the assassination, Congress President and Rajiv Gandhi’s son Rahul Gandhi said that he had no grudge against perpetrators of his father’s death and that he was appalled by the pictures of dead Prabhakaran in 2009. Rahul Gandhi wanted to paint an image of him being very forgiving and generous towards his personal nemesis, even if it meant pardoning his father’s murderers.

Nalini Sriharan, the women at whose house Dhanu had strapped the bomb and hidden, and, one of the seven convicts were awarded life imprisonment in 2000 had thanked Rahul Gandhi for not interfering in SC hearing regarding the mercy petition for the release of all convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

What Rahul Gandhi should remember is that Rajiv Gandhi was not just his father, but also ex-PM of India(and probably the next PM) in 1991. His death was not just his personal loss, but a loss to the whole country. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination had made India look vulnerable. It had exposed the gaping holes in our politics, defence and foreign affairs. Prabhakaran, had the blood of thousands of people on his hands when he was hunted down by Chinese forces in 2009.

UN reported total casualties to be more than 1 lakh at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. What had started just as a protest against linguistic and cultural domination, was morphed into a bloody and vicious Civil War. Prabhakaran had brainwashed thousands of young minds to militate against Sri Lankan government and had made terrorists out of them. LTTE was responsible for the killing of 1200 soldiers from the Indian side(Total casualties during Kargil war was 527), who had gone to Sri Lanka as peacekeeping forces. The Indian government was an arch-enemy of Prabhakaran. He could have gone to any extent to achieve his diabolical goals, even it meant killing own Tamils(whose cause he always said to be his own).

For Rahul Gandhi to say that he was appalled by the death of the main mastermind behind all this, seems just like a political stunt. First and foremost, the killers were not culprits to the Gandhi family alone, they had committed a national crime. They are the culprits to the nation and not subject to any personal moral relief. India had played its role as peace spreading entity and had to pay a heavy price for it. The attack was a dent on India’s goals and ideas. I would like to ask Mr Rahul Gandhi if he knows Dharman, a 38-year-old police constable who also died in the bomb blast that killed Rajiv Gandhi. He was survived by his two small children. Kokilavani had read a beautiful poem dedicated to Rajiv Gandhi, just a few moments before Rajiv Gandhi’s death. She had her whole life ahead of her, the perpetrators did not give a damn about the likes of her. Her body was blown to smithereens in that blast. Has Rahul Gandhi even pardoned killers of that girl, too?

Several others, along with Dharman and 12-year-old Kokilavani, were killed in the blast. LTTE had not only taken an aim on an ex-PM, but also on India’s people and sovereignty. This was a tragedy of several families, not only one. 

Authorities could not even identify Rajiv Gandhi’s body after the blast. Bodies of others were identified after great efforts. How can we just let the perpetrators involved in this ghastly misdemeanour, go? What Mr Rahul Gandhi needs to realize is that a PM belongs more to the country than the family. Be it assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own bodyguards, or mysterious death of Lal Bahadur Shastri just after the Tashkent accords. Deaths of national leaders have always given a big blow to India’s stability. They have always bred turmoil and consternation, in public. 

Since we are discussing the mercy petitions filed by the convicts, not adding the contents of their petition would be a blatant bias. Perarivalan, has stated that he has been in incarceration for more than 25 years, and it’s more than enough for his crimes. Even Nalini, Murugan (Nalini’s husband) and Jayakumar had a similar appeal to make. What needs to be added is here, all convicts(along with 22 others) who have filed the petition were awarded death penalty under TADA. But later on, only 4 remained with death penalties.

Sonia Gandhi intervened in the year 2000 and had asked the court to provide respite to Nalini and convert her death sentence into life imprisonment. Other three were to be hanged on September 9, 2011, after Pratibha Patil rejected the mercy petition. But, Madras Court put a stay on hanging and in 2014 SC quashed death penalty on grounds of “inordinate delays “ on behalf of UPA led Centre government in hearing pleas.

These killers would have been long dead if mercy petitions were not entertained. Now, to release all of them should be seen as just letting them go. Many convicts in India, are waiting for their turn to just start their trial. Here, not once but multiple times mercy petitions are heard, discussed and accepted. It seems that the Congress party has kept alive Rajiv Gandhi‘s assassination case till the times, electoral gains were in offing. Once, you have reaped benefits, it’s time to project self as an archetype of compassion and an ardent apostle of peace.

Irony must have wept in silence when Rahul Gandhi’s Congress formed an alliance with DMK in Tamil Nadu. Rajiv Gandhi had accused DMK and its supremo Karunanidhi to be in liaison with LTTE chief. In fact, many reports say that Karunanidhi along with his ally Vaiko(Who left DMK in 1993) used to communicate with Prabhakaran. Vaiko had even visited LTTE camps in Northern Sri Lanka, allegedly back-stabbed Karunanidhi by asking Prabhakaran to help him succeed the DMK after annulling Karunanidhi.

Vaiko with Prabhakaran

Karunanidhi never regarded Prabhakaran as a terrorist and even called him his ‘good friend’, in 2009. The SJP(R) government had even dismissed DMK government after 1989 Tamil Nadu state elections. The Chandra Shekhar led government, which was on outside support from Congress(I), had cited degradation of state law and collusion between outlawed LTTE and DMK as grounds for dismissal.

From time-to-time when Congress party was in alliance with Jayalalitha led AIADMK, called DMK and Karunanidhi as ‘anti-national’. A term now Congress says is used by BJP to stifle voices of dissent. You can expect NGOs and placard activists to go gaga over convicts release. They have been instrumental in helping convicts with their mercy petitions. They will be called upon the podium and asked to narrate tales of the imaginary ordeal they had to go through. How predictive, isn’t it?

Release of these perpetrators sets a very dangerous precedent when it comes to national security. A squad coming from foreign land and with aid of local like-minded people, executes an assassin plot and are freed after a certain time! That is not something any nation should allow.

The BJP led central government is opposing the mercy petition in Supreme Court. It said that it will have ‘international ramifications’. The BJP government is trying hard not to let the convicts go free. President Kovind had in June rejected the TN government’s proposal to release the convicts. But Rajiv Gandhi’s own party seems to be least bothered. This whole scenario translates just to one thing that, you can assassinate a PM and still be heard and freed after some time. National security, our sovereignty just seem to be hollow words in Indian political lexicon.

Politicians keep changing their stance from time to time for petty political gains. In politics, words and relations just stop making sense. But when national security and the international perception of sovereignty is at stake, petty political goals need to be kept aside.

There is still time, we can send a strong message to the world. We won’t ever tolerate a foreign organization or a country giving orders to us on how to be and what to do, that sending assassins or using violence to thwart our democratic institutions, shall not be taken lightly. It needs to be seen, how the governor responds to the pleas, but let us not be very surprised of all perpetrators are released from jail and Congress uses this for their political propaganda.

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