Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India after his mother and predecessor Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Her assassination was in retaliation to ‘Operation Blue Star’ carried out by the Indian army at the behest of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. As soon as Rajiv Gandhi took oath as Prime Minister, he asked President Zail Singh to dissolve the Lok Sabha as it had completed its five-year tenure. Fresh elections were held and the Congress party won a landslide victory which managed to get sympathy votes of the almost entire country following the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
During his tenure as Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed which was intended to resolve the Sri Lankan Civil War. The Sri Lankan Civil War was fought from 1983 to 2009 between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE) which was also known as the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE fought for a separate independent Tamil state in the north and east part of the island nation due to the continuous discrimination against the Sri Lankan Tamils by the Sinhalese ruled government.
Under the terms of the agreement in the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, the Sri Lankan government agreed to a devolution of powers to the provinces, Sri Lankan army would withdraw to their stations and the Tamil rebels were surrender their arms. However few months after this agreement, the Tamil rebels (mainly LTTE) declared to continue their armed struggle for an independent Tamil state (Tamil Eelam) and hence refused to give up their arms.
The Indian government sent in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was formed and inducted to Sri Lanka on the request of its President Jayewardene. The main aim of the IPKF was to disarm the various Tamil rebel groups without being significantly involved in combat. However within a few months of its deployment the LTTE refused to disarm which was a pre-condition under the Peace Accord. This followed by the LTTE attacking the IPKF, and the IPKF decided to disarm the LTTE by force if necessary.
Rajiv Gandhi lost the election and his premiership ended in 1989. The new Prime Minister of India V P Singh ordered the removal of IPKF after it failed to restore peace in Sri Lanka. The new government believed that India should be known as a non-aligned, non-interfering country. However according to the then Indian high commissioner of India J N Dixit, the new Prime Minister wanted to ‘do things exactly opposite to what Rajiv Gandhi did’.
Prime Minister V P Singh government lost the majority in the parliament when the BJP withdrew support from the support when he ordered the arrest of BJP President L K Advani during the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. After losing the no-confidence motion, he resigned as Prime Minister within a year and Chandra Shekhar formed the government with the help of Rajiv Gandhi’s congress which was the opposition party.
It was clearly evident that the government will fall and fresh elections will be conducted. The LTTE was particularly aware of the fact that Rajiv Gandhi could soon come back to power and may resend Indian troops to Sri Lanka. In an interview with the Sunday Magazine (21-28 August 1990), Rajiv Gandhi had said that he would send the IPKF back to Sri Lanka to disarm LTTE if he came back to power. The LTTE had decided to prevent Rajiv Gandhi from getting back to power, even if it means his death. The LTTE realised that if Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister, they wouldn’t be able to assassinate him due to various security around him and had the chance when he was still the opposition leader who was campaigning.
Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning for the 1991 general elections and visited Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on 21st May 1991. He got out of his car and began to walk to the dais where he would deliver a speech. Many congress workers and children garlanded the former Prime Minister along the way. Among them was Thenmozhi Rajaratnam (Dhanu) who approached him and garlanded him. She bent down on the pretext to touch Rajiv Gandhi’s speech and instead detonated an RDX explosive belt tucked under her dress, killing her, Rajiv Gandhi, and 14 others. Dhanu was a member of the LTTE.
A commission was formed under Justice J S Verma to look into the security lapses that led to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The final report that was submitted by the commission had mentioned that the security arrangements were adequate but the local congress party leaders disrupted and broke these arrangements.
In 2006, LTTE spokesperson Anton Balasingham told NDTV that the killing of Rajiv Gandhi was a “great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy which we deeply regret”.
After the death of Indira Gandhi, the Special Protection Group(SPG) was constituted and specifically trained to provide protection to Rajiv Gandhi. However it was then not allowed to continue protection once Prime Minister would leave the office. After the death of Rajiv Gandhi, the SPG Act was amended to provide security to former Prime Ministers and their families as well. In 2019, the SPG protection was limited to only the serving Prime Minister and its immediate family and protection to former PMs and their families for 5 years.