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Rajiv Gandhi's 28th death anniversary: What happened on fateful night of May 21, 1991

New Delhi, News Nation Bureau | Updated : 21 May 2019, 09:37 AM
Today is the 28th death anniversary of India's 6th prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. (File photo)
Today is the 28th death anniversary of India's 6th prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. (File photo)

Today is India’s 6th prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 28th death anniversary. Confident of getting back to power in the mid-term Lok Sabha elections of 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was on a campaign spree when he was assassinated by a suicide bomber for sending an Indian Peace Keeping Force into Sri Lanka in 1987 to aid Colombo in its fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur. Rajiv Gandhi was busy campaigning for the mid-term elections which had been announced after the VP Singh-led Janata Dal government had collapsed in October, 1990.

Let us take a look at what happened on the fateful night of May 21, 1991:

It was around 6 pm when Rajiv Gandhi finished his poll meetings in Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam and planned to leave for Tamil Nadu. 

Rajiv Gandhi's pilot informed him that the chopper had developed some technical snag and flying to Madras, now Chennai, wouldn't be possible. A disappointed Rajiv Gandhi headed towards the state guest house.

On his way to the guest house, the police team escorting him received a wireless message that the chopper was ready to fly. Rajiv Gandhi made an about turn and headed again towards the airport.

Rajiv Gandhi's pilot Captain Chandok would later reveal that the engineers of King's Airways had fixed the technical snag in the communication system of the chopper.

Rajiv Gandhi was in such a hurry and so eager to reach Chennai that he didn't even bother to inform his own personal security chief OP Sagar, who was traveling in a separate van. Rajiv went to Madras without his personal security team, who were on their way to the state guest house at Vishakhapatnam.

Minutes before 8.30 pm, Rajiv Gandhi was received by Congress leaders including GK Moopanar, Margatham Chandrashekhar and Jayanthi Natrajan.

Gandhi got into a car along with M Chandrashekhar, GK Moopanar and Ramamurthy. Jayanti Natrajan would follow him in another car. They were bound for Sriperumbudur, an industrial centre in Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu and just 40 km from Chennai.

Around 10.10 pm, Rajiv reached Sriperumbudur. A song was being played showering praise on Rajiv Gandhi invoking name of his mother Indira Gandhi.

He was making his way to the dais, meeting and greeting people, shaking their hands, letting them garland him. Separate galleries had been made for men and women in the crowd. Rajiv Gandhi first went towards men's section and then headed towards the gallery where women were cheering for him.

Among the crowd was a young woman of around 30, who moved towards Rajiv Gandhi purposefully. A woman police constable, later identified as Anusuya, tried to stop the woman but Rajiv Gandhi intervened and directing to let her cross the fence. "Don't worry. Relax," Rajiv Gandhi had said to Anusuya, the policewoman. These were his last words. 

Thenmozhi Rajaratnam aka Dhanu had the belt bomb with the explosive material in her lower back region and the power pack, two switches and the circuitry in front. One switch initiated the circuitry and the other activated the bomb. The explosive used was an RDX, about 10,000 steel balls of 2 mm diameter were embedded in the bomb.

After garlanding Rajiv, Rajaratnam evidently stooped to touch his feet and activated the explosive. Rajiv might have tried to stop her. A little distance away stood Sivarasan, the mastermind.

It was 10.21 pm, the investigation diary noted. There was blood and human flesh everywhere. Rajiv Gandhi's body was identified from his Lotto shoes and Gucci wrist watch. His body was lying near his security in-charge Pradeep Gupta.

The All India Radio and Doordarshan broke the news to the nation late at night. Rajiv became the second Gandhi after her mother to be assassinated.

First Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2019 09:37 AM
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