Rajiv Gandhi’s killers deserve no reprieve | The Factivist by Shekhar Gupta

The central government must reject Tamil Nadu’s recommendation to release seven convicts.

columns Updated: Sep 12, 2018 09:04 IST
Rajiv Gandhi,Rajiv Gandhi assassination,LTTE
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, on May 21, 1991.(HT archives)

Before we debate the human or legal aspects of the Tamil Nadu government’s recommendation to free those convicted for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, we must understand their reasons for doing so. They have no sympathy in their heads, nor any bleeding hearts. They are playing cynical, awful, ethnic politics. It borders on being anti-national.

To begin with, it’s an obscene notion that Indian Tamils somehow sympathise with Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins, or see them as victims. There was a radical stream of Dravida politics in India when the LTTE ruled Jaffna, with notions of pan-Palk Strait Tamil nationalism. It was small, but noisy. The two Dravida parties, especially the DMK, willingly courted them for votes. The viciously competitive ethnic politics of Sri Lanka played out in India.

Soon enough, though, leaders of both ADMK and DMK started fearing Prabhakaran and the LTTE. A series of murderous terror attacks, including on Meenambakkam airport, Madras, (in 1984, 33 killed), were carried out by these terrorists from Sri Lanka. Nobody would, however, question them.

The lowest point came when Karunanidhi refused to welcome the IPKF soldiers returning by ships to (then) Madras port. He said he couldn’t go to welcome the killers of his Tamil brethren. The Indian state had the weakest interlude in its post-Independence history then, with V.P. Singh’s daily-wage government dependent on the DMK. It also needs to be noted that it was during this period that a senior RAW officer in Colombo, caught spying for India’s adversaries, was mysteriously freed. The belief is that V.P. Singh’s government succumbed to DMK pressures. That character was played by Prakash Belawadi in Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe.

Rajiv’s assassination, in the summer of 1991, came when the entire Tamil Nadu establishment was under LTTE’s sway. In one of those awful, awful ironies, by choosing the place and the manner of his death, Rajiv Gandhi destroyed any sympathy for the Lankan Tamil cause. Henceforth, both DMK and ADMK made occasional noises, but both really wanted Prabhakaran dead. That’s why both made a few perfunctory protests but quietly applauded — with great relief — as Mahinda Rajapaksa concluded his brutal destruction of LTTE in the summer of 2009 even as the Indian election campaign was on.

It was on India’s request (on the suggestion of the TN government) that Rajapaksa delayed the news of Prabhakaran’s death till the Indian vote count was over. With Prabhakaran and the LTTE, one of the gravest terror threats to the subcontinent had ended. Remember, the cult of the suicide bomber was invented by that evil man decades before al-Qaeda or ISIS were even born. And he made ordinary Tamils, including young women and children — even pre-teens — blow themselves up to assassinate the enemies of their living ‘God’, Prabhakaran himself.

That is precisely how he killed Rajiv Gandhi and 14 other innocent Indians with him. Besides a tragedy for the families, it was a great humiliation for India that a malevolent terrorist cult from overseas could assassinate a recent former prime minister of India in the course of an election campaign he was set to win, because he had a score to settle with him.

The entire Indian system, all parties, BJP included, buried all differences on that day and decided to work for the LTTE’s destruction. No sovereign nation can survive if it allows foreign terrorists to walk in and assassinate its key public figures. It will then be impossible for its future leaders to decide fearlessly in the national interest.

No political party has also politicised that assassination except, sadly, the Congress itself. The late Arjun Singh persuaded the Gandhi family to believe that without Sonia Gandhi, the Congress under Narasimha Rao and later Sitaram Kesri was not interested in unravelling the larger conspiracy behind the assassination, with the DMK then an ally in the United Front government supported by the Congress. He used a dim-witted judicial commission report, loaded with insinuations and no evidence, to get Sonia Gandhi to bring down that government. Of course, soon enough, it was forgotten. The Congress and the DMK were back to being friends and coalition partners. They still are.

The woman human bomb in the Rajiv case died. Some other conspirators were killed in a later encounter. The rest of them, convicted through a due process of trial and appeals, are serving life sentences. If anybody now raises questions about their conviction, as the usual suspects did with Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon, they ought to be ignored, as in the past. If you lay such store by due process, you must respect it too. Or, you strengthen the case for capital punishment and even “encounter” killings.

These jailed conspirators are fortunate to escape hanging. They should remain in jail. The Gandhi family may or may not forgive them, but they have no locus standi. We are a constitutional state, not a feudal or tribal one with blood money justice.

I am quite sure the BJP government at the Centre will toss this recommendation back with contempt. Because if it doesn’t, it will no longer be able to call itself a nationalist government. Not with a clear conscience or a straight face.

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First Published: Sep 12, 2018 09:00 IST