Friday, May 21, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

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On this day in 1991 Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Thenmuli Rajaratnam (also known as Dhanu and later as Gayatri), a female suicide bomber allied with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; at the time, hostilities between India and Sri Lanka were at an all-time high.

Gandhi was killed while at Sriperumbudur (near Chennai) in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu to give a speech in support of a Congress Party candidate, Mrs. Maragatham Chandrasekhar, who was running for a seat in the Lok Sabha*. He was killed instantly at 10:10 PM, along with 14 others, including a photographer whose film of the killing survived even though he did not. The Rajiv Gandhi Memorial was later built in the small industrial town, and today is its biggest tourist attraction.

Gandhi was India's youngest Prime Minister when first elected in October 1984 at the age of 40; his mother was India's first female Prime Minister, and his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was India's first-ever Prime Minister following its independence from Britain in 1947. Alas, he was not the first Prime Minister of India to be assassinated; in the same way he followed his mother into office he also emulated her departure.

*Which she later won; Chandrasekhar died in October 2001, at the age of 84.
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