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
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
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
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
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
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
Swamy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)