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Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: Retracing The Tragedy

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed Tamil group in Sri Lanka that was waging a war against the island nation's government, on May 21, 1991.

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Rajiv Gandhi
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On May 21, 1991, 31 years ago, India suffered a massive political tragedy when Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during a suicide bombing in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. Years later, the six accused, who were convicted of assassinating Gandhi, have now been released.

While all the six convicts ---Nalini, PR Ravichandran, Robert Pias, Suthendraraja, Jaykumar and Sriharan--- walk free out of the prison, here’s a look back at what happened on the fateful day of May 21.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed Tamil group in Sri Lanka that was waging a war against the island nation's government.

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Back in May 1991, Gandhi was busy in election campaign with G.K. Moopanar in the southern states of India. On 21 May, after campaigning in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, his next stop was Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu.

Two hours after he arrived in Madras (now Chennai), Gandhi was driven by motorcade in a white Ambassador car to Sriperumbudur. During his drive, he was stopping along the way at a few other election campaigning venues.

Finally, when Gandhi reached a campaign rally in Sriperumbudur, he left his car and began walking towards the dais where he was to deliver a speech. Along the way, he was garlanded by many well-wishers, Indian National Congress workers and schoolchildren.

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He had appeared at the rally site after 10 pm and there were two separate galleries for men and women. And he visited the men’s gallery first, and he then went on to visit the women’s.

It is said that while visiting the women’s gallery, Gandhi stopped a policewoman named Anusuya Daisy from blocking the assassin, Kalaivani Rajaratnam (popularly known by her assumed names Thenmozhi Rajaratnam and Dhanu) to come and touch his feet.

It was then that Dhanu blew herself up along with Gandhi and 14 others. She bent to touch the former PM’s feet and and detonated an RDX explosive-laden belt tucked below her dress at 10.10 pm.

One of the 14 victims, who was a photographer, had managed to capture the bomber, who was later identified as Thenmozhi Rajaratnam alias Dhanu from Jaffna. The film of her touching Gandhi’s feet was intact at the time of recovery.

Following his assassination, Gandhi's mutilated body was airlifted to New Delhi. From the Indira Gandhi International Airport, his body was sent to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi for an autopsy, reconstruction, and embalming.

A state funeral was held for Rajiv Gandhi on 24 May 1991.

Dhanu and other LTTE members practised the assassination twice, a previous report by Outlook stated. They went to a rally of late AIADMK leader Jayalalitha in the first run, whereas they practised assassinating VP Singh in the second run. Dhanu managed to touch Singh’s feet in a traditional Indian gesture of respect during the second run, just as she did with Rajiv on May 21.

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