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1991: Suicide attack ends Nehru era

The 1991 elections in India proved to be the most violent in the country's history.

Two hundred people died in violence that flared during the campaigning and on 21 May the Congress Party leader and incumbent prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.

He was killed by a female Tamil Tiger suicide bomber while on the campaign trail in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Your memories

My father was a chief election agent for the Congress Party in Visakhapatnam in 1991. On that very day, Rajiv had his last public meeting and the rally for the meeting went just past my home. My dad was busy for almost a week prior to that.

He called home around 1800 to say that Rajiv was staying for the night in Vizag, as his flight had some technical problem and he would go along with him for local campaigning in town that night.

I was surprised to see him back home at 2100 and he said some miracle happened and the flight had been repaired in time.

Around 2230, me and my dad were listening to the BBC about the Indian elections, and we were shell-shocked. My dad went to the nominee's home immediately and asked me to stay tuned all night in hope that he might have survived the blast.

If there is one thing I could change in my life, I would destroy that flight beyond repair.
Raju, India

It was as if someone had knocked the wind out of my sails - everything seemed so dark. I was in college and exams were going on. My sister and I first got to know from my father who heard the milkman shouting the news all over.

I remember my whole family's eyes kept welling up with tears all day long and for many days afterwards. It was so gruesomely shocking and hard to believe! It was difficult to think of that extremely handsome face destroyed and lifeless forever. Even my father, who did not support Rajiv politically, cried for the loss of a decent man.

That was Rajiv Gandhi's speciality - he was a decent human being, which was more than can be said of people in general, leave alone politicians. I think everyone misses him even now. I certainly do.
Madhu, India

I was in my final year undergraduate school when I got the news of his death.

It's a pity that such a young and beautiful life was cut short by stupid people. To me he represented the hope of the young India gone utterly wrong. He was a handsome, quiet, naive person with a charming personality. As a PM he started off well, he had the right ideas and the right people.

His biggest achievement was to bring in Sam Pitroda and revolutionizing telecommunication in the country which until then was the fancy of the rich and powerful. They made sure that the common man could have access to that talking machine through innumerable Public Telephone booths.

But then his young impressionable mind took a turn for the worse, his name got tainted in scams, with his Italian wife and her family churning money from the Indian coffer. He got himself surrounded with sycophants, who all wanted to fill their booty and make merry.

He became one more Nehru clan guy and I started hating this family rule as he became more autocratic day by day - like engineering a strike by the employees of the newspaper "Indian Express" which was critical of him, bringing in laws to curtail the free press, taking political mileage of sensitive religious issues like Muslim Personal law.

In essence he became the nightmare of my country.
Girish Bangalore, United States

I was on vacation in Nepal with family and friends. We had a rough flight. I was almost sure that our plane would crash that day by the way it swayed all over the sky. I grew tired of waiting for the imminent tragedy to happen and fell asleep, only to wake up safe two hours later. We landed at Delhi International.

I was having fun chatting with my fellow passengers when suddenly I felt some kind of a chill in the air. A rumour was spreading that Rajeev Gandhi has been assassinated just minutes before. It was like deja vu.

I was shocked beyond belief. Also there was some criticism of Tamilians in the air. This is because the assassination happened near to the Tamil capital, Chennai. We felt a bit uncomfortable as we were from there and were on our way to get the next fight to Chennai.

What happened to Rajeev was a terrible tragedy and an irreparable loss both for the family and for India as a whole.
Prakash Krishnamoorthy, USA

The memories of that painful night are still fresh in my mind. The first phase of voting in an election which was to return Rajiv Gandhi to power was over.

I was preparing to go to bed when my brother informed me that Mr Gandhi had been killed in a powerful bomb blast at an election meeting. I was shocked and completely devastated and could not believe what had happened as only a month back I had met him at a public function and he was full of life and new hopes for country's development.

Rajiv represented the hopes of new India and with him we lost a dynamic leader who has shown India the path to true economic and social development. The void left by his premature departure from Indian political scene may never be filled.
Mohammad Shoaib, India

I still remember the day with great grief. I was in JJ Hospital, Bombay taking care of my mother- in-law.

I went out to buy the morning paper and a cup of tea. But that morning turned into "mourning day" all over India.

I left her in the hospital and took the local train to reach home as soon as possible so I could watch TV. That night I kept sobbing the whole night while my husband kept consoling me.

Even today, after so many years I am in tears.
Geeta Pandey, USA

I was in Bombay (Mumbai) India when this happened. I awoke that day and everyone was talking about it.

Everything was shut down and tourists were having trouble getting out to the airport to leave.

I was trying to make a change on my plane ticket, but the city ticket office was shuttered. I saw a woman going in a side door - she was going into work to get some stuff done, but the office was not opening to the public.

For some reason she let me in and helped me! I'll never forget that.

I still have the newspaper from that day.
Andrew, US

I had gone jogging early in the morning. Just before leaving, I switched the TV on, and found the then vice-president, Shankar Dayal Sharma, sorrowfully commenting on how he would miss "him". Not waiting to hear who had died, I just assumed it was an old fogy, and went off.

I came back earlier than usual. I turned the TV on again, curious and with a tiny bit of foreboding, as I had an inkling that something untoward had happened.

Rajiv was dead. The hope of my generation, the man who could be prince, was no more. The maturing and charismatic leader who was asking us to trust him again, and very nearly succeeding, wouldn't get a second chance.

It was as if the world had caved in for this 20-year-old. For the first time in my life, I cried in grief. The memory is still vivid, 12 years hence.
Tanmay, Singapore

I was 14, and had just finished my school finals and looking forward to my entry into the secondary school. Early in the morning of 21 May, someone rang the door-bell.

I accompanied my father to the door. When the caller spoke, we two froze. I didn't know how to react and there were tears rolling down my dad's eyes. Alas this should not have happened to Rajiv and in fact to no other human being!

Rajiv was a pioneer to free up the economy and should take lot of credit for the amazing IT talent that the country now boasts of 12 years later.

I am one of those many IT professionals and I am grateful to that great man!
Mahesh, UK, ex-Madras, India

I still remember waking up on May 21, 1991 and hearing about Rajiv Gandhi's assassination like it was yesterday.

Although it was only 10 years old at the time, it did not take me long to realize how much of an impact political assassinations can have on a nation's psyche.

It was also one of the first times I had ever been keenly interested in the results of an election and I have no doubt that Rajiv Gandhi's assassination only heightened my interest in Indian politics which continues to this day.
Dheeraj Jagadev, USA

Yes, I still remember that day. I was in the final year of my engineering degree. It was a cloudy day. We were playing street cricket that afternoon.

Suddenly some neighbour shouted regarding the bomb blast (in which Rajiv was involved). In next hour they confirmed that Rajiv was killed in that blast. It ended up a very sad day.

I happened to see Rajiv a year before during his visit to Guntur. We had a major hurricane in Andhra during that summer. He came to see the hurricane victims and destruction caused by it. That time many hoped for him to become PM again. He seemed very honest and humble.

His death was a great loss to the country.
Sri, Princeton, India


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