Sena Vidanagama, a 76-year-old Sri Lankan photojournalist, passed away on Wednesday. Vidanagama was most known for the iconic photograph of a former Sri Lankan naval officer attacking former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with his rifle butt during a Guard of Honor ceremony in Sri Lanka on July 30, 1987.
Sena Vidanagama worked as an official photographer for a variety of global news agencies, including the AFP French News Service. Viganagama, who was born in Matara, Sri Lanka in 1945, had his images extensively disseminated both locally and abroad.
What happened on July 30, 1987?
On July 30, 1987, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was attending a Naval Cadet Assembly at President’s House in Colombo when he was attacked with the butt of a rifle by a Sri Lankan Sinhala Navy soldier. PM’s guards rescued him and captured the perpetrator promptly before the situation worsened.
The attacker, Wijemuni Vijitha, Rohana de Silva, was a Sri Lankan sailor who was present as Rajiv Gandhi observed the Sri Lankan Honor Guard. Rohana was enraged by India’s alleged backing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). To that aim, he slung his ceremonial rifle over the back of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s shoulder. However, PM stooped and escaped the entire force of the strike.
Rohana was tried in court and sent to six years in jail. He was released two and a half years after receiving a presidential pardon. Later in an interview with the Daily Mirror, Wijemuni expressed his rage and explained why he attacked Rajiv Gandhi.
He said, “I was waiting at the guard-of-honour I was restless and angry over what India and prime minister Gandhi had done to our country. But it was too late as the accord had already been signed. This made me angrier and I thought I must do something to avenge the disaster caused to our country. I was thinking about how India was helping the LTTE with money, arms and military training. The idea to attack with the rifle struck my mind when Rajiv Gandhi was about two or three feet away from me.”
The recording of the incident
Prem Prakash, a seasoned journalist and the ANI Chairman, also filmed the attack on Rajiv Gandhi. According to ANI’s Smita Prakash, who shared about the incident on Twitter, Prem Prakash was the one who captured a video of the incident while reporting from Sri Lanka. According to Smita, the PMO was supposed to disavow the occurrence, but it had already made headlines in Sri Lanka.
Not one to take bullying by any PMO, @pp1931 sat on the aisle refusing to budge till his tape was returned, Rajiv Gandhi asked him into PM cabin. PM was rubbing his bruised elbow.He turned to his media advisor, said “how can we deny the attack, it is on tape, give it back to him”— Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash) June 8, 2022
The video clip was also taken by Indian authorities in Sri Lanka at that time. However, it was eventually returned to Prem Prakash when the Prime Minister stated so.