As three accused men stand on Death Row for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, activists came to Mumbai to urge the media to expose the loopholes in the investigations. They faced some tough questions from the press as they explained their stand
No more: Activists claim Rajiv Gandhi's assassination was as tragic as
it was shocking, but the investigations leave much to be desired
Riding high on phrases like, 'we feel like a community under siege', and 'Tamil Nadu has faced suppression and oppression post the Rajiv Gandhi assassination', activists from Chennai hailing from an organisation called the May 17 Movement held a press conference at Mumbai's Press Club on Tuesday, November 1 urging the media to bare the "correct facts" about the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. (Incidentally, victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was declared by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 16, 2009, and the LTTE admitted defeat on May 17, 2009. The activists say they have named the organisation May 17, to mark that date and what they call as the 'Tamil Genocide'). Currently three Tamilians, two from Sri Lanka called Santhan and Murgan and one from India, A G Perarivalan are on Death Row, sentenced to hang for the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. May 17 Movement speakers claimed all three are innocent. The Movement's (which is also against the death penalty) members spoke out, saying there were glaring loopholes in the investigation, post the assassination. They all stressed the line, "By hanging these three men we will have put an end to knowing who the real conspirators behind this assassination are. The case will close and the truth buried forever."
Pictures speak louder than words: T Gandhi and T Veluchamy show
a picture of the assassination scene at the press conference at the city's
Press Club. PICS/ATUL KAMBLE
Said Thirumurugan Gandhi who began the discussion, "In any country, an assassination of a high-profile person is followed by a detailed, democratic and transparent investigation which has not been the case here. In fact, the assassination was followed by a campaign filled with pre-conceived notions and rhetoric where there was no space for democratic discussion." Thirumurugan also revealed that, "Tamils outside and within Tamil Nadu faced oppression and suppression. It was as if the entire Tamil community was made to feel guilty about the assassination." Though "oppression and suppression" were cited, the speakers could give little evidence of how personally they were "oppressed or suppressed." They spoke about the Cauvery water issue, as one example of how Tamilian concerns have not been addressed. (The sharing of waters of the river Cauvery has been a bone of contention between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.) The speakers reiterated that the media has to go behind the story told by the Government about the assassination and ask some tough questions. Though they did say that they did not question the wisdom of the Supreme Court.
Knock kock, who's there? T Veluchamy enters the Press Club hall. He
was one of the speakers addressing a press conference
One of the speakers, Trichy Veluchamy, who described himself as a Congressman, said he challenged Subramaniam Swamy to an open debate on a public platform about the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. "I challenge him to a debate anywhere, outside Tamil Nadu" said Veluchamy. Veluchamy and Gandhi also showed pictures of the site of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. "In the picture pre-assassination, Dhanu (the human bomb) is seen without a bindi (the dot on the forehead) yet, post assassination, after she herself is blown up she is seen with a bindi on a forehead," they said. When a journalist asked them in response to that, 'what are you trying to say -- she is not wearing a bindi before and then, seen with a bindi after that -- what is the point you are trying to make?" they did not elaborate.
When asked by another journalist whether Perarivalan and the two other Sri Lankan Tamils were part of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Gandhi speaking on behalf of all said, "At that time in history, there was nothing wrong in supporting the LTTE. There were several groups that supported the Tamil cause." Gandhi added as if the sentiment was all pervasive, "In TN, everybody was sympathetic to the cause of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is like how the entire country loves the Indian cricket team."
Making my point: V Rajendran (l) answers, as a journalist asks a
Viduthalai Rajendran, the third speaker, described as an, "intellectual" said, "One has to find out about who the real beneficiaries of this assassination are. I am against the death penalty per se and for reformative punishment. Death penalty is a punishment for the family and not for the person who is to be hanged. There could be other punishments and accent should be put on reforming ."
A report given by May 17 Movement to journalists also states that, 'Rajiv's death is not just the murder of a VIP but it is a bitter conspiracy that shattered the nation. It is the clear symptom of deeper plans from the international powers which try to dominate the polity of this nation.' Yet, when asked who these, "international powers were" the speakers did not give a direct answer. One journalist also asked them why they are making this into a Tamilian community issue. The journalist added, "When Indira Gandhi was murdered by her bodyguards and they were subsequently hanged, the Sikh community did not make an issue or campaign about it." To this the speakers replied, "In those cases, it was clear cut who the assassins were. In this case, it is not." The activists ended by saying that, "Tamil sentiment also does not approve of the killing of Rajiv Gandhi."
Thirumurugan G then said post press conference in a telephone conversation from Chennai, "We might take this program to other cities. We are waiting to see how our views are played out in the Mumbai press. We are honestly quite skeptical of being given a chance to air our views." Thirumurugan said that India had, "betrayed the Sri Lanka Tamils and if India had not interfered in Sri Lanka, the problems would have been sorted out on its own." Thirumurugan also accused the Indian media of "being misinformed, the Sri Lanka press is much more open, free and more aware." Thirumurugan claimed LTTE retaliated with suicide bombings in self-defence only, after there was aerial bombardment by Sri Lankan forces. Citing a deep cynicism about the media, Thirumurugan said that they have been, "trying to educate the media" about the real facts of the Rajiv Gandhi case. He dubbed certain sections of the media as corporate media, and when asked to clarify said, "certain sections of the media has been bought over by corporates." His words took this journalist (surely not bought over by any corporate) to writer Arundhati Roy's rant near the same venue, where she was talking about Maoists and repeatedly stated that the media was "bought over" by corporates.
The winds of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination are blowing hard all the way from Chennai to Mumbai as activists up the ante to try and save the three men from the noose. Just a couple of months ago, A G Perarivalan's mother and other 'notodeathpenalty' activists had addressed a press conference in the city on similar lines, though they had focused primarily on Perarivalan's fate as they claimed he was innocent. At that time, they were inundated with questions about whether they thought Afzal Guru and Kasab too, should be spared from being hanged. It was an indication of just how sensational and politicised the issue has become.
Today, the noose throws its shadow over three men in a Vellore jail. It is a rope that cleaves a nation and provokes heated debate. Whatever the verdict, one is certain that the ramifications will be huge, like the shockwaves that spread across the world when a woman exploded blowing up Rajiv Gandhi and putting Sriperumbudur on the global radar for the wrong reason.