Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Case

Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, was murdered in a suicide bombing incident in Sriperumbudur, a panchayat town near Chennai City. The assassination was carried out by LTTE members.


The thorough investigation process and questioning of key suspects picked up so far have confirmed that in October 1990, deep in the Jaffna jungles, the plot to kill Rajiv Gandhi was first hatched. It is now known that the motive was connected with the political tremors that then emanated from New Delhi. Then Prime Minister V.P. Singh struggling to save his government, after a threat by the BJP to withdraw support from his minority National Front government,

The LTTE leadership met across the Palk Straits in the forest hide-outs of Jaffna in northeastern Sri Lanka for a critical assessment of the situation. The conference agreed that Congress(I) President Rajiv Gandhi's chances of returning to power were almost assured now. This meant a potential re-introduction of the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) in Sri Lanka and a certain crackdown on an extensive LTTE network set up in Tamil Nadu for the radical organization fighting for Tamil Eelam. Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was the Indian military contingent performing a peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990.

The LTTE had made up its mind to stop Rajiv Gandhi from regaining power long before the National Front government eventually collapsed. The V.P Singh government was voted out at the beginning of November 1990, and Rajiv Gandhi was practically back in power, firing from behind Chandra Shekhar's shoulder. The likelihood of a mid-term poll seemed ever greater. The LTTE was becoming hopeless.

  • In the southern parts of the country, the former prime minister was campaigning for the impending elections. He arrived in Chennai on May 21st, 1991, by air from Visakhapatnam, where he was campaigning. He was then driven in a car to Sriperumbudur.
  • He was thronged by many well-wishers as he was heading toward the dais at a campaign rally. Among them, there were party workers as well as school children.
  • Thenmozhi approached him and at about 10:21 PM she then bent down as if to touch his foot but she exploded the RDX-laden belt she was wearing at the same time.
  • Rajiv Gandhi, his gunman and 25 other people were killed by the blast that followed.
  • All this on camera was recorded. Although the cameraman died in the blast, his camera was found intact.
  • Thenmozhi, a.k.a Dhanu, a suicide bomber, was a member of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Tigers (LTTE), a militant group that waged a civil war in Sri Lanka over the issue of the island nation's separate homeland for the Tamils.
  • The Rajiv Gandhi government sent an Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka in 1987, a few years before the assassination, to end tensions between the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka.
  • This was done in part to pacify the separatist demand in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, and in part to prevent a possible refugee crisis in the southern part of the country.
  • The move backfired, however, as the IPKF was drawn into the quagmire and found themselves battling the Tigers rather than attempting to convince them to disarm. In 1990, the IPKF was pulled out.
  • Rajiv Gandhi told a magazine in a 1990 interview that if he was elected back to the office, he would send the IPKF back to Sri Lanka. It is assumed that to prevent him from coming back to power, the LTTE wanted to kill him.


The major investigation was initiated by SIT. The Madras General Hospital was visited by officials to receive an eyewitness account of the casualties. Ansuya provided them with a description of some suspicious characters she had seen with a photographer wandering around. The photographs taken by Haribabu were then made available to ansuya. The account of Ansuya made them suspicious of certain characters featured in the pictures, including that of the woman with Shivarasan holding a sandalwood garland.

The SIT visited the crime scene the next morning, finding parts of Dhanu's outfit, strips of vest and belt-bomb she wore with attached flesh bits, two toggle switches, cables used in the bomb, and a half-burned 9-volt battery. DNA printing of the bits of flesh discovered on the spot was carried out by experts. The piece of flesh attached to the belt matched the portion of the body found of the woman. That convincingly developed assassin's theory of being a human-bomb.

Next, the National Security Guards' explosive experts reconstructed the denim vest and part of the belt. Meanwhile, on May 25, the arrest at the port of Vedaraniam of an LTTE member Shankar, provided another breakthrough. Shankar, when intercepted, informed the local police that Prabhakaran had sent him to India to kill Varadaraja Perumal, who had been given refuge in Bhopal by the Indian government.

The matter was brought to the attention of the SIT in Madras immediately. When shown the pictures taken by Haribabu, Shankar named in the photographs the kurta-pajama clad man as Raghuvaran, an explosive expert and a trusted lieutenant of Prabhakaran who was involved in the killing of Padmanabha, the leader of the EPRLF.

A notebook recovered from the possession of Shankaran held a telephone number from Madras with two names: Nalini and Murugan. The identity of the holder of the number was verified by the telephone authorities.

With the photos taken by Haribabu of the crowd circulating among the local population, SIT officials visited Sriperumbudur again. Just four or five characters were left unidentified after a painstaking process of elimination and two of them turned out to be Shubha and Nalini.

An analysis of Ravi Shankaran's confiscated picture album also showed Nalini along with a few others. Ravi Shankaran told the SIT during questioning that he knew one of the characters in the photograph from his album. It turned out to be Bhagynathan, the brother of Nalini.

SIT picked up Bhagynathan from his printing press, but Nalini and Murugan managed to escape. The SIT was told by Bhagynathan how he fell under the influence of Baby Subramaniyam and about the operatives he had been harboring. The enigmatic kurta-pajama clad man was known by him as Shivarasan.

Murugan and Nalini were in Tirupati when this was going on, where he decided to shave his head to celebrate the success of the operation. They decided to get married as well. But by now, the image of Nalini had been sprinkled all over the state, so they gave up the idea. The two agreed to return to Madras, presuming the coastal areas would be heavily patrolled.

They were unaware that they were awaited at all the railway and bus stations in Madras by hundreds of police teams. Murugan and Nalini's arrest was the greatest breakthrough in the investigation. In addition to exposing the entire story, their interrogation also pointed a definitive finger at Prabhakaran as the mastermind. Murugan acknowledged that Prabhakaran had direct orders from him. The arrests of Arivu and Robert Pias swiftly followed with their confession.



In its charge sheet, the Special Investigation Team named 41 defendants, including 12 who died in the blast and three who absconded, before a TADA court in Chennai in 1998.

  • In May 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of four individuals, including Murugan, Santham, Perarivalan, and Nalini, and converted the death sentence of three individuals to life and released the remaining 19.
  • The death sentence of one of the accused S Nalini in 2000 was reduced to life imprisonment by the then Governor of Tamil Nadu.
  • The death sentence for Murugan, Santhan, and AG Perivalan was commuted to life by the Supreme Court in 2014.
  • The convicts in the case-Nalini, Santhan, Murugan (the husband of Nalini), A.G. Perarivalan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar, and Ravichandran are serving life terms in separate Tamil Nadu prisons.
  • For over 27 years, the convicts have been in prison.
  • The TN government decided to release the convicts in 2014 and asked the central government to express its views within three days as the CBI inquiry was carried out in the case.
  • The central government approached the Supreme Court and secured a stay on the Tamil Nadu government's release proposal.
  • The court ruled that only with the approval of the center, could the convicts be released.
  • The court also added that without any clear plea from convicts, states may not exercise suo motu ‘the right to grant remission’.
  • In 2016, the government of Tamil Nadu wrote to the Centre seeking its views on its decision to free them, which the Centre refused.


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