On This Day In History: May 21, 1991 – Former PM Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by LTTE

On this day, May 21, in the year 1991, former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by members of a militant organisation of Sri Lanka called Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The incident occurred just after India had ended its involvement through its Peacekeeping force in Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in Sriperumbudur city of Tamil Nadu when the brutal incident occurred. A member of LTTE, Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also known as Dhanu, was the person who carried out the attack.

When Rajiv Gandhi began to walk towards the dais to deliver his speech, he was garlanded by many well-wishers. The assassin Dhanu approached and greeted Gandhi at around 10 PM. She then bent down to touch his feet and detonated an RDX explosive-laden belt which was hidden below her dress. Along with Rajiv Gandhi, 14 others were also killed in the explosion which was heard from over 200 metres away. The assassination was caught on film by a local photographer who also died in the blast. His camera and film were later found at the blast site.

On This Day In History: May 21, 1991 – Former PM Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by LTTE

After his assassination, Rajiv Gandhi’s mutilated body was airlifted to New Delhi. His body was sent to All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi for post-mortem, reconstruction and embalming. On May 24, 1991, a state funeral was held and was telecasted live nationally and internationally. It was attended by dignitaries from over 60 countries. Rajiv Gandhi was cremated on the banks of Yamuna river. Today, the site where he was cremated is known as Veer Bhumi.

Immediately after the assassination, the investigation of the matter was handed over to CBI on May 22, 1991. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) team was also created to find who was responsible for the matter. The SIT team confirmed the role of LTTE in the assassination. Later, the Supreme Court of India held that LTTE’s plan of assassinating Rajiv was due to his interview to Sunday magazine during August 21-28, 1990, where he said that he would send Indian Peacekeeping Force to disarm LTTE if he came back to power again. The LLTE’s decision to kill Rajiv Gandhi was perhaps aimed at preventing him from coming to power again.

Due to the unfortunate event of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination on May 21, 1991, this day is observed as the anti-terrorism day. The day is observed to generate awareness about the danger of terrorism and its effect on people, society and country as a whole. Events are organised throughout the country in various colleges, schools and universities regarding the dangers of terrorism and violence. Anti-terrorism and anti-violence pledge is taken in all Government offices, public sector undertakings and other public institutions.

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