Aung San. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Liaqat Ali Khan. Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Mohammed Daoud. Hafizullah Amin. Indira Gandhi. Zia-ur-Rehman. Zia-ul-Haq. Rajiv Gandhi. Vijaya Kumaratunga. Ranasinghe Premadasa. Gamini Dissanayake. Najibullah. King Birendra and family. Lakshman Kadirgamar. Benazir Bhutto.
Staggering. All united in death. By assasssination or execution. All of them political hate crimes. Many of them from famous South Asian political dynasties, others not-so-well known names. But all lost to a phenomenon peculiar to the South Asian continent.
Benazir Bhutto was 26 years old when her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hung by the neck until death in April 1979 on the orders of General Zia-ul-Haq, who himself was assassinated in August 1988 in a still mysterious air crash.
Chandrika Kumaratunga was 14 when her father SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959. In December 1999, Chandrika, daughter of two prime ministers, lost an eye after a suicide bomber attacked her minutes after addressing a rally in the heart of Colombo.
A last question from a television reporter saved her from taking the full impact of the blast. She lived to tell the tale.
Benazir Bhutto, too, was attacked after she ended her rally in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh. She was unlucky. Had she not peeped out of her car, the former Pakistani prime minister may have survived. The parallel with Chandrika Kumaratunga ends here.
Is violence in our genes? Are we South Asians driven more easily to murder and mayhem than dialogue and discussion? Will this cycle of murder and assassination as a tool to “settle” political differences ever end? Or are we destined to suffer this fate?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but the fact remains that South Asians as a whole are still to find rule-of-law solutions to the problems that face them from Kabul to Colombo and Kashmir to Dhaka.
Ethnic, religious, personal and political rivalries are still being settled in the most primitive and barbaric way. My mind travels to the most brutal killing of former Afghan President Najibullah, who was taken out of a United Nations-protected compound and hung from a traffic signal in September 1996.
To me, there’s little difference between the extreme extremism of the Taliban and the barbarity and madness of Pol Pot and his hordes. Violence and ideology taken to the extreme display the same shade: the label doesn’t matter.
And, what about the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi planned and plotted by Tamil Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran for daring to take on his cadres by sending Indian peacekeeping troops to Sri Lanka?
Here was a case of absolute interference in the electoral politics of India: assassinating the country’s former prime minister in the midst of a general election. The LTTE, long used to targeting ethnic Siinhala leaders, had just intervened most drastically in Indian politics.
Asif Ali Zardari spent years in jail on the charge of plotting to murder brother-in-law Murtaza Bhutto. Zardari’s long stint in jail redeemed to some extent his otherwise poor, playboy image among Pakistanis.
We are an emotionally surcharged people: putting our leaders on a pedestal one day and watching them die in the streets the next day.
Nathuram Godse used a simple pistol to murder Gandhi, but Prabhakaran used Dhanu the human bomber — with suicide jacket rigged to perfection — to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi.
Nearly 60 years after Gandhi’s death, his message seems to have got lost at home and in the immediate neighbourhood.
Outrage at yet another political murder is not enough. We need some sanity.