Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the third member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to become India’s prime minister. He was known as India’s youngest prime minister, one under whom the Indian National Congress party won its best-ever tally of more than 400 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha in 1984, riding on the sympathy generated by his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Rajiv was assassinated on 21 May 1991 in Sriperumbudur, about 40km from Chennai, by a woman operative of the Sri Lankan rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The 46-year-old leader was campaigning for the 1991 general election.

On the diplomatic front, Rajiv’s assassination resulted in the LTTE losing sympathy in India and India adopting a hands-off approach to the civil war in Sri Lanka between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils.

Politically, his death propelled the Congress party back to power in 1991, but it remained short of a majority. And it hasn’t won a majority in Parliament since.

The period thereafter saw an era of coalition governments and politics that ended only in 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured more than the 272 seats required to form a government on its own.

This steady decline of the Congress, and the rise of coalition politics, has also seen the growth in stature of regional parties and leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, and Lalu Prasad in Bihar.

With the Congress losing the assembly elections in Assam and Kerala on Thursday, the party could well have touched its nadir.

Among the last photographs of Rajiv Gandhi, taken at Chennai airport shortly before his death.

Gandhi at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, just before the bomb blast. Photo: Indian Express Archive
Gandhi at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, just before the bomb blast. Photo: Indian Express Archive
Gandhi’s funeral procession in New Delhi on 24 May 1991. Photo: AFP
Gandhi’s funeral procession in New Delhi on 24 May 1991. Photo: AFP

The funeral procession outside Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi.

Rahul Gandhi lights the funeral pyre on 24 May 1991 at Shakti Sthal, New Delhi. Photo: AFP
Rahul Gandhi lights the funeral pyre on 24 May 1991 at Shakti Sthal, New Delhi. Photo: AFP
Sonia Gandhi with daughter Priyanka and son Rahul in the train that transported Rajiv Gandhi’s ashes to Allahabad for immersion on 27 May 1991. Photo: AFP
Sonia Gandhi with daughter Priyanka and son Rahul in the train that transported Rajiv Gandhi’s ashes to Allahabad for immersion on 27 May 1991. Photo: AFP
The swearing-in ceremony of P.V. Narasimha Rao and his council of ministers on 21 June 1991. Photo: Hindustan Times
The swearing-in ceremony of P.V. Narasimha Rao and his council of ministers on 21 June 1991. Photo: Hindustan Times
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