From Fury to Peace: How Priyanka Forgave Rajiv Gandhi’s Killers

From a “furious” 19-year-old girl to a “forgiving daughter”, how Priyanka Gandhi accepted her father’s death.

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India
6 min read
From a “furious” 19-year-old to a “forgiving daughter”, how Priyanka Gandhi accepted her father, Rajiv Gandhi’s death.
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"It is true that I met Nalini Sriharan in Vellore central jail on 19 March 2008. It was my way of coming to peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced.”

Here, Priyanka Gandhi, who was appointed the Congress’ General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh East on Wednesday, 23 January, talks about the woman convicted of assassinating her father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, on 21 May 1991.

In a detailed, 2009 interview to NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, Priyanka had opened up about how how she came to terms with the death of her father, and how she went from being a 19-year-old “furious with the world” to a “forgiving daughter”.

‘I Was Furious Not Just With My Father’s Killers, But With The Whole World’

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant organisation from Sri Lanka, led by Prabhakaran, was blamed for plotting and executing the assassination of the former prime minister.

When a teenaged Priyanka learnt of her father’s death, she was “furious with the world”.

“In the beginning, when my father was killed, I didn't realise it but I was absolutely furious inside. Not just with the individuals who killed him, I was furious with the whole world,” she said in the interview.

From Fury to Peace: How Priyanka Forgave Rajiv Gandhi’s Killers

‘True Non Violence is The Absence of Victimhood’

“The anger didn't last that longer. The anger passes as you grow up,” said Priyanka, adding that she realised the futility of “victimhood”, and how understanding the circumstances of the other person helped her come to terms with the truth.

From Fury to Peace: How Priyanka Forgave Rajiv Gandhi’s Killers
“The minute you realise you are not a victim and the other person is as much a victim of the same circumstances as you are...then how can you put yourself in a position when you are someone to forgive someone else. Because, you know your victimhood has disappeared.”
Priyanka Gandhi

In the interview, Priyanka said she believes that anyone who is trying to “overtly hurt someone” is doing so because of their own personal sufferings.

‘Why Did You Do it?’ Priyanka Asked Her Father’s Killer

After spending almost 17 years in prison for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Nalini Sriharan was in a state of disbelief when Priyanka went to meet her in Vellore jail on 18 March 2008.

In the book Rajiv Murder: Hidden Truths and Priyanka-Nalini Meeting, released in 2016, Nalini shared the details of the moments when Priyanka, during the 2008 meeting, broke down while asking her, "Why did you do it? My father was a good man, a soft man, you could have resolved anything over a discussion with him."

Priyanka, in her interview to NDTV, said, “When I met her [Nalini], I realised that even though I was not angry with her anymore or didn’t hate her, I was still thinking I was somebody who could forgive her for something she had done.”

From Fury to Peace: How Priyanka Forgave Rajiv Gandhi’s Killers

“But...” she continues, “I realised...here is a woman who had gone through as much if not more than me.”

In her book, Nalini recalls being baffled when Priyanka cried. In her own words, she “did not expect her to cry” because she knows “how painful a tear is.” She told Priyanka, “Madam, I don't know anything. I won't even hurt an ant. I'm a prisoner of circumstances. I've never thought of hurting anyone even in my dreams."

‘My Could Not Let The Same Fate Befall An Innocent Child’

At the time of the assassination, Nalini was married and pregnant with the baby of Murugan, whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court in 2018. Incidentally, even Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life sentence in 2000 by then Tamil Nadu Governor M Fathima Beevi, on the recommendation of the Tamil Nadu cabinet. In 1999, Sonia Gandhi, too, had sought clemency for Nalini because she did not want her child to be orphaned, according to a BBC report.

Priyanka says her mother had made the appeal because she could not let the same tragedy befall another “innocent child”.

“My mother has been through the suffering, then how could she want the same thing to happen to someone else? Nalini’s child was innocent. What has the child got to do with anything?” said Priyanka.

From Fury to Peace: How Priyanka Forgave Rajiv Gandhi’s Killers

‘I Understand That A Nation Cannot React As Priyanka, The Daughter of Rajiv, Reacts”

Priyanka, during the interview, had also said she understands that “a nation cannot react as Priyanka, the daughter of Rajiv, reacts.”

“I really admire the Tamil people. I understand the Tamil nationalism, I understand their cause. Yes, I don't agree with their methods. Fundamentally, as a human being, I don't agree with killing people for anything,” she said.

From Fury to Peace: How Priyanka Forgave Rajiv Gandhi’s Killers

When asked how she feels about the politics over the LTTE, she said,”I make clear separation between the political and the personal. I understand that as a nation, you cannot condone the killing of an ex-prime minister. I understand a nation cannot react as Priyanka, the daughter of Rajiv, reacts.”

The Day in 2004 When Priyanka Feared For Her Mother’s Life

When asked if she fears for the lives of her mother and brother, who are much actively involved in politics, Priyanka recalled a day from 2004, days before the Lok Sabha election, when Dr Manmohan Singh took up prime ministership instead of Sonia Gandhi.

“I had this one moment of complete terror on one day in 2004 when I peeped into her office and saw Lalu ji and other bunch of leaders coaxing her to become the prime minister. I burst out crying and ran to my brother and said, “You know..she is going to die!’.”
Priyanka Gandhi

“Since then,” she said, “I have realised that this is part of their duties. I won't restrict them because I know they are doing their duty, their job. And if they lose their lives doing their job, we must accept it.”

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After staying away from active poltiics for years, Priyanka Gandhi pulled into action on Wednesday after she was appointed the Congress’ General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh East.

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