"Rajiv Gandhi killed in explosion", screamed the Free Press Journal's front page news headline on May 22, 1991. The former Prime Minister and Congress President had been killed in a bomb explosion in Tamil Nadu's Sriperumbudur, some 40 kilometers from Madras on Tuesday night. More than a dozen people, the article added, were also feared dead after the blast. There was not much detail available yet and the front page presented a strange contrast against the far more mundane updates that peppered the rest of the edition.
The blast occurred at 10:20 pm as Gandhi got down from his car to address a public meeting. He had just arrived from Andhra Pradesh and was slated to make an election tour of parts of the southern state.
"Security men immediately cordoned off the area and were trying to rush the casualties to the nearby hospitals. The explosion, which took place at the venue of the public meeting about 10 metres from the dais, was heard even 200 metres away," the FPJ article explained.
Over the next day or so, the situation grew progressively more tense as riots broke out in many states. The May 23rd edition of FPJ carried details about the death of nice individuals as mourners turned violent. The army was called out and a curfew imposed amid tension, violence and a bandh across the country. The Election Commission announced the deferral of Lok Sabha Polls and the Congress unanimous chose Sonia Gandhi as interim President.
All evidence collected so far on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi indicates that the explosive device was strapped to the body of a member of a suicide squad, FPJ reported quoting Home Ministry sources. While we now know who was responsible for the incident, officials at the time had known nothing about the nature of the blast, the kind of explosive used and the modus operandi of the killers. Forensic reports were awaited, and while some individuals were being questioned, nobody had even been detained for interrogation thus far.
On May 23, a significant portion of the Free Press Journal newspaper was dedicated to the assassination and tangential topics - from the response to Sonia Gandhi's election to the ongoing investigation and the nation-wide state of mourning. There were also several pictures and feature articles highlighting the life of Rajiv Gandhi.