Friday, May 22, 2009

How a cyanide capsule delayed Prabhakaran’s meeting with Rajiv Gandhi

It was June 1985 and there was an interesting visitor to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 7 Race Course Road residence— Velupillai Prabhakaran, the young chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Tigers were then the largest and best organised of the pro-Eelam groups fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran was put up at the Ashoka hotel and accompanied by his senior lieutenants—Mahendrajah alias Mahattya and Anton Balasingham. When the trio reached the security screening area at the PM’s residence, when the newly- raised Special Protection Group (SPG) which exclusively protected the Prime Minister, raised an alarm. All the leaders were wearing cyanide capsules carried in a glass capsule which dangled from black threads around their necks. The cyanide capsule was a accessory all LTTE cadre sported to avoid torture at the hands of the Sri Lankan authorities. Both the IB and the newly-raised Special Protection Group (SPG) which guarded the PM were unanimous—the cyanide capsules would have to be taken off. Mahattya and Balasingham complied, but Prabhakaran refused. “This is my protection, how can I take it off?” the indignant leader told me in Tamil through an interpreter. The SPG and the IB feared that the mercurial leader could use the lethal capsule to kill Rajiv Gandhi. A senior and very influential IB officer even tried to persuade Prabhakaran, but the guerilla simply refused to budge. Finally, after nearly 45 minutes, a compromise was reached. Prabhakaran could wear the cyanide capsule, but he would be escorted by two SPG guards. They would ensure that he made no sudden moves. Rajiv Gandhi was kept at a certain distance from him. The SPG joined two tables together to ensure that Prabhakaran would never come within handshaking distance of Rajiv Gandhi. The meeting went off well. It’s a different matter that just six years later, Prabhakaran would kill his former host using another trademark weapon in the tiger arsenal—the suicide bomber.

Read > Profile of a Tiger and Prabhakaran's exclusive interview in 1986

1 comment:

Nicky Jha said...

Good to know cyanide capsule story.I just wish,had taken birth in Rajiv's era..I would have known this charismatic leader even better.I want to thank Rajiv Gandhi for initiatives like JNV(Jawahar Navoday Vidyalaya)and his vision for future IT.Both are part of my life.