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Abu Marwan Abdal Malik Ibn Zuhr: ‘Avenzoar’

Abu Marwan Abdal Malik Ibn Zuhr, known in the west as Avenzoar, was

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May 21, 1991: The assassination that also killed Tamil Eelam

Sunday May 22, 2011 05:17:24 PM, M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

When a young suicide bomber dispatched by Velupillai Prabhakaran scripted history by assassinating former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi 20 years ago, it marked the end of the struggle for a Tamil state in Sri Lanka.

This may sound far-fetched considering that Sri Lanka had to endure 18 more years of bloodletting to finally subdue the Tamil Tigers, by when many thousands perished on both sides of the ethnic fence in the island nation.

But almost all those who have pursued the Sri Lanka story agree that if there was one event that marked the critical turning point in the Tamil separatist drive, it was the cold-blooded assassination of Gandhi.

As was his wont, Prabhakaran denied any involvement in the grotesque manner Gandhi was done away with, using a young woman who had concealed a vest of explosives strapped on her body with a loose salwar kameez.

The day was May 21, 1991 when Gandhi, possibly on his way to becoming the prime minister again, reached the small town of Sriperumbudur near Chennai to address an election rally of his Congress party.

It did not take too long for the young suicide bomber, identified later as a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) member, to get close to Gandhi, garland him and bend as if to touch his feet.

Just as an unsuspecting Gandhi leaned towards her, she activated a toggle switch that blew her and everyone around her.

For many months, many diehard LTTE supporters refused to believe that the Tigers had any hand in the killing. As one pro-LTTE Tamil banker in London said, it would be extremely foolish if the LTTE was involved.

But the truth was precisely that.

What followed was meticulous investigation by Indian experts who ripped apart Prabhakaran's claim of non-involvement, and proved beyond doubt that it was he who had ordered Gandhi's killing.

The revelation stunned the Indian establishment, sections of which naively believed that the LTTE chief may be bitter with India for not supporting the Tamil Eelam project but was perhaps harmless in the long run.

Gandhi's killing lay bare the truth about Prabhakaran. From then on, he and his LTTE became persona non grata for India.

Prabhakaran may have never imagined that the murder would get linked firmly with the Tigers, would lead to so much anti-LTTE feelings in India, and cause such terrible consequences.

India's decision to outlaw the LTTE, after tolerating it for almost a decade, was the first such move that ultimately choked the Tigers internationally.

Not that India would have ever let Tamil Eelam take birth. But by killing Gandhi, Prabhakaran ensured that the Indian state would become permanently hostile to all that he stood for - irrespective of the party in power in New Delhi.

And at every stage from then on, first haltingly and then actively, overtly and also covertly, regionally and globally, India became a sworn enemy of the LTTE.

By the time the Tigers began going down, LTTE supporters were openly grumbling about the blunder Prabhakaran had committed by killing Gandhi.

If Gandhi had not been murdered, it is highly doubtful if his widow Sonia would have ever taken to politics.

And because that happened, Sonia Gandhi was the most powerful person in an indifferent India when Sri Lankan troops crushed the LTTE in May 2009, only days before the 18th anniversary of the grisly killing.

That thought would have certainly crossed many minds when she paid homage Saturday to her husband and the former prime minister at Veer Bhumi (land of the brave), his memorial in New Delhi where he was cremated.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at



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