It was one of the most sensational crimes in independent India. Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Sriperumbudur in May 1991 by a human bomb from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Twenty-five years later, one of the four sentenced to death—it was later commuted to life—has come out with her version of what happened, or what did not happen.
Nalini Murugan pleads innocence in her memoir, and talks about the flaws in the CBI investigation, about harassment of the convicts, about her daughter Athira and, most importantly, about her meeting with Rajiv’s daughter, Priyanka Vadra, in 2008.
Nalini’s book comes one year after the Supreme Court ruled that Tamil Nadu cannot remit the jail terms of the convicts tried by central agencies. Published in Tamil by Yazh publications, the book Rajiv Kolai: Maraikkappatta Unmaigalum, Priyanka Nalini Santhipum (Rajiv Assassination: Hidden Truths and the Meeting Between Priyanka and Nalini) is compiled by journalist Ekalaivan.
Nalini writes about her mother who was named by Mahatma Gandhi, her first meeting with her husband, Murugan, who is also a convict in the case, and her acquaintance with those who plotted the murder, Suba, Dhanu and Sivarasan. “I told him [Murugan] I was pregnant, just before the bomb blast,” she recounts. “He was so happy that he lifted me and danced around. We were even discussing names for the baby. If we were involved in a conspiracy to kill a leader of that stature, if we were aware of it, would we have been happy about the baby? Could we even be thinking about the future? I would not have done anything to endanger my pregnancy.”
The 600-page book has forewords from political leaders like Vaiko, Thol Thirumavalavan and Seeman, and former Madras High Court judge Hariparanthaman. Release of Rajiv’s assassins is still a political and legal question in Tamil Nadu. Nalini also talks about the 50-day ordeal in the custody of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) and questions why the CBI did not capture Sivarasan, who was the main accused in the case. “Was he a skilful evader? This is the question that would have occurred to many of you. If you ask us, we would say that he could have easily been caught. It was the CBI that deliberately tried to portray him as a person difficult to catch,” she writes.
She maintains that neither she nor her husband was aware of the assassination conspiracy, something she told Priyanka when she visited her in jail. Nalini says she does not know why Priyanka wanted to meet her. “Priyanka kept asking me why her father, a good man, was murdered, and was very particular to know who was behind the assassination.”
Nalini tries to convince Priyanka of her and her husband’s innocence. “Priyanka was listening keenly, with the same sharp look.... But when I told her that they [the other accused], too, were innocent like us, her expression began to change. It was evident that she was furious.” Priyanka then “rudely” asked Nalini, “Does this mean all the inquiry by the CBI, witnesses and the evidence are lies? Does this mean the court erred in its judgment? What are you trying to say?”
Former CBI director D.R. Karthikeyan, who handled the case, told THE WEEK that the investigations were carried out meticulously. Labelling the book as a bundle of contradictions, he said more such books from the killers could be expected.
Nalini says she and Suba saw the ghost of Dhanu, the suicide bomber, walking ahead of them when they returned from Sriperumbudur. The ghost, she says, disappeared into the walls of the house. Hard to believe, like much of her book.