"The firmness of her hand had a message that I failed to decipher at that time"

Moments before Rajivs murder Nalinis account of the assassination which shook India
news Book Excerpt Friday, November 25, 2016 - 13:12

The secrecy that shrouds the life of Nalini Sriharan ever since she was convicted for the assassination Rajiv Gandhi has always been intriguing for journalists. She is perhaps the longest serving woman prisoner across the world. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, Nalini was clandestinely married to Murugan, and was pregnant. Since then, she has been meeting Murugan only once every fortnight inside the jail premises, sometimes even forfeiting the right when she decides to lodge a protest for other demands, like being allowed to meet her daughter.

When Priyanka Gandhi met Nalini in Vellore Jail in early 2008, the meeting was again shrouded in mystery. Much was speculated over the years, before Nalini opened up and said what had really transpired.

The book Rajiv Assassination: Hidden truths and the meeting between Nalini and Priyanka is an autobiography of sorts and seeks to place before the readers the assassination and its aftermath, from Nalini's point of view. Throughout the book, Nalini insists she never had an inkling of the conspiracy until it had happened. 

The book will remain a controversial and yet important document on Rajiv's assassination. 

The book has been compiled by journalist Ekalaivan and published through his Yaazh Pathippakam. Eklaivan acknowledges the support of Nalini's lawyer Pugazhendhi, Nalini's husband Murugan, and Murugan's friends Erode Perarivaalan and Vellore Saravanan in helping him work on this book.

The following is Nalini’s account of what happened in the days and moments leading up to the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, as assassination which changed the future course of an entire nation.

Translation by Kavitha Muralidharan


The Day I Met Sivarasan (Excerpts of Chapter 4)

By Nalini Sriharan

I was home on May 7, 1991. There was a bus strike for some reason. By afternoon, Sivarasan brought Dhanu and Shuba home. Dhanu and Shuba told me about a public meeting in Nandanam attended by VP Singh, actor Sivaji Ganesan and MK Stalin. They said that they wanted to meet VP Singh and garland him. They urged me to join them. I agreed since I was sitting idle at home. Actually, I was thrilled at the idea of seeing VP Singh from close quarters. They were happy that I was joining them. On the way, we met my husband. I also met Perarivaalan and Hari Babu at the meeting.

We reached the spot of the public meeting by 6pm. Many people were on the stage, speaking. VP Singh arrived by 1am. Dhanu attempted garlanding him but failed. He received the garland with his hand when he was leaving the stage. I was also given a camera to take photographs. But in the commotion, I couldn’t take any pictures. Hari Babu was standing opposite the stage at that time and he couldn’t take photos too. 

Sivarasan was very angry about Dhanu not being able to garland him and our failure to take photos. He was taking all of us to task, asking us not to fail next time. I was nervous and confused. I was upset by the way my husband’s face changed. But we couldn’t speak up. I could see that even Hari Babu was upset. 

Shuba and Dhanu later tried to explain that he was angry because of the opportunity lost. “If we had the photographs, we could try and meet him (VP Singh) later and earn his confidence by showing the photos,” they told me. Much later I realized it was a lie to hoodwink us. They wanted us to believe that both garlanding and photographing it were only attempts to nurture the goodwill of leaders like VP Singh which would then be used to help Tamil people in Sri Lanka. They wanted us to believe there was nothing more to it. Sivarasan’s anger was also an attempt to make us believe that there was nothing more to it.

We were there at the public meeting venue for about seven hours between 6pm to 2am. But during the enquiry, nobody deposed that they had seen us there. CBI too did not interrogate us about it. But three people had said that they had seen me at Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991. Two of them were from Congress. One was a woman cop. I understood it was possible to fabricate witnesses to suit one’s agenda. 

(Editor’s note: Nalini then explains that her husband was away from May 10 to May 17, during which time she also realizes she was pregnant and conveys the news to him over the phone.) 

It was my day off on May 18. Shuba and Dhanu came to my Villivakkam residence and asked me to accompany them for sightseeing. I felt sorry for them. They wouldn’t have seen much in their own country. We went to Mahabalipuram and came back to Villivakkam later in the evening. Then, we went to watch a movie that night at a theater in Villivakkam. On May 19 too, we were going around. We went to temples and shops, and returned later in the evening. Shuba asked me if we could go and watch a movie that night too. But I was tired and had to go to work the next day, so I refused. They were chatting through the night. Next morning, they left and I went to work. 

On May 21, I went to work and asked for leave to attend the meeting. My boss told me to work for some time and leave. I worked for about an hour and left for my Royapettah home. I was desperately hoping to meet my husband. It had been long since I saw him.  But when I reached home, it was locked. I opened the door, ate something and left. I had to join Shuba and Dhanu to go to the Sriperumbadur public meeting. I was thinking of returning to Royapettah after the public meeting and seeing my husband. I was planning to take him to the Vilivakkam residence and discuss the next step since I was now pregnant (The were clandestinely married). By now Dhanu and Shuba joined me and we started towards Parry’s corner. 

Even when I was thinking and planning all of this, I was excited about seeing a great leader, a former prime minister, up-close.  When we reached the bus terminus at Parry’s corner, Sivarasan and Hari Babu were waiting for us. We joined them and reached Sriperumbadur by 7pm. Dhanu and Shuba were talking animatedly in the bus. I could understand from their conversations that they were thrilled about theatres and movies. When we reached the public meeting venue, it was not so crowded. But soon the venue began to swell with crowds. They kept announcing that the arrival of Rajiv Gandhi was delayed. I suddenly realized that Dhanu and Sivarasan were not walking with us any longer. I turned to look at them, and saw that they were fighting. I couldn’t hear them though. I checked with Shuba and she told me it was normal. “Nothing to worry Akka. They always talk that way,” she told me. In some time, Dhanu and Sivarasan joined us, and I could see that they were back to their old form.

Now, I was confused as to how we were going to reach the VIP enclosure crossing the crowds. But things were moving very quickly. Sivarasan was apparently familiar to all the important people there. I was not aware of who they were. But it was clear they were people from the Congress. I could see Sivarasan was laughing and joking with them. Then he took Dhanu alone to VIP enclosure. Shuba and I went to the women’s enclosure and began listening to the music program. 

Music directors Shankar-Ganesh were conducting the program. Sivarasan took Dhanu to the queue where VIPs were standing to wish Rajiv Gandhi and was later seen talking to other Congress leaders in a casual way. 

The crowd was excited. The police were present in full force in the VIP enclosure. Leaders were walking around telling people that Rajiv Gandhi is on his way. Like others, I was glued to the path hoping to catch a glimpse of Rajiv Gandhi.

It was 10.15 pm. The cries became shrill. Slogans hailing Rajiv the leader were raised. I couldn’t see what was happening. People told me that the leader stepped down from the car and was now going to garland the statue of Indira Gandhi. In some time, announcements were made about Rajiv Gandhi’s arrival. But from where we were standing nothing was visible. I asked Shuba if we can go to the front to get a better view. Shuba refused, held my hand and went further back, away from the stage. I asked her what the issue was. She only said, “Nothing, be silent.”

She further pulled me back. I thought she was taking a circuitous route to the stage since it was too crowded. I was going with her, led by her firm hand. The firmness of her hand had a message that I failed to decipher at that time.