162 Gandhi Nagar: The Forgotten Riots of 1991


It was the year 1991, 21st May, when Rajiv Gandhi, a former Prime Minister (PM) of India was assassinated by a fanatical Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suicide bomber at the start of a scheduled Election Meeting at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai. Rajiv Gandhi himself became PM on the death of his mother, Indira Gandhi, who was shot dead by her own Sikh bodyguards, in October 1984, while walking from her Home to the Office – within the same premises. Immediately following the assassination, there was widespread rioting against the Sikh Community in New Delhi, when Sikhs were chased on the streets and clobbered. Indira Gandhi paid with her life for adopting a bold stand of flushing-out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple – the holiest Shrine of the Sikhs, Amritsar, in what was called Operation Bluestar. At that time Rajiv Gandhi, who was newly and freshly sworn-in as PM, infamously said, ‘when a big tree falls, the earth shakes.’ Justice for the Sikhs is elusive to this day as the perpetrators of the violence have not been pinned-down.

Not many would recall that there were similar riots, though in a much smaller scale, in Tamil Nadu, following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. During the aftermath, the homes and offices of the then DMK MLA’s (Member of Legislative Assembly) were attacked, ransacked and burnt. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) with Mr  M Karunanithi as Party Chief and Chief Minister was ruling the State, and the general perception was that they were overtly friendly with the militant LTTE and closely supported their activities – in the name of Tamil supremacy. Those were the times of the failure of the Indo-Sri-Lanka Accord and the return of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) from its unsuccessful operations – to disarm the LTTE, in Sri Lanka. Rajiv Gandhi had sent the IPKF to Sri Lanka to enforce an Accord signed on the prodding of India. Subsequently, the DMK Government was dismissed from power for its sins of friendship – aligning with the LTTE. The stigma of the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination stuck to the DMK for the next five years after which the people apparently forgot the DMK-LTTE nexus – started wearing dark glasses too – and brought them back to power.

During the time of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Mr A M Ramasamy (AMR), a humble, soft-spoken and an extremely rare breed of an honest, upright politician of the DMK was the MLA of Attur, in Salem District, Tamil Nadu, having won his first ever term. He was a self-made entrepreneur and had built a business empire, from scratch: a fiery Workshop, a commercial money safe-keeping multi-storey building for the State Bank of India, a roaring diving-deep Bore-Well Business, a useful White-Goods Showroom, a trendy Men’s Ready-Made Retail Outlet, and some hard Real Estate property. He had created wealth from almost nothing to begin with, even while Dhirubhai Ambani was scaling-up Reliance, in North Western India. While Dhirubhai was offered a place in the Socialist Party, in 1949, for campaigning and ensuring the win of his choice of candidates (he promptly declined and went on to follow his dream of establishing the Reliance Business Empire), AMR was clean-bowled and mesmerised by the clever speeches of the DMK Chief, and found his true calling in politics. AMR had vigoursly contested the previous MLA Term, but lost. He made it on the second attempt, and was more than two years into his stint as a first-time MLA when disaster struck.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at about 10pm and early next morning the attacks on the homes of DMK MLA’s across the State began sporadically. In the heat of that moment the DMK found itself implicitly accused as a partner in crime – with the LTTE – and the wrath of the people charged-up the mobs against the DMK Party. One quietly formed outside 162, Gandhi Nagar, Attur, the house of AMR, and before anyone inside could find their bearings, they surged inside, breaking open the front door and dragging whatever was inside – TV, Tables, chairs, crockery clothes etc and piling them up in the street outside and making a bonfire of them. One of the rooms inside was set aflame, which held the neatly starched white shirts and party colour-branded dhotis of AMR. AMR had the presence of mind to lock himself up inside his small bedroom, with the family. His daughter and a few others quickly left through a side gate and scaled a wall to reach safety. Meanwhile, at about the same time, another mob ransacked his White Goods, and Garments Shop stealing TV’s, Pressure Cookers, Fans, Pants and Shirts and the kind, and finally torching the place – looked liked a burnt-out oven the next day. His workshop was pulled down – only an old iron lathe firmly stood its place to tell the story. His businesses was fully raised to the ground and were reduced to a pile of ashes!

What had AMR done to deserve this? His only fault was that he was a MLA of the DMK, which polices had prejudiced AMR’s fate that day. Maybe, some were envious of his then bustling business – which had nothing to do with politics, and took the opportunity to ‘break even’. He was entirely honest in his dealings and corruption was alien to him.

Now, what do you expect the DMK should have done? They should have reasonably compensated him for the damage, which was only due to the DMK’s reckless stance of openly supporting a terrorist organization outside the Country in the name of Tamil chauvinism, parochialism and jingoism. The DMK Party did not pay even a ‘single Rupee’ to AMR. Once in a while when you flick through the Newspapers you come across Political Parties competing with one another to compensate the survivors of a killing, a suicide or an accident, which are sensitive and have wild political consequences and ramifications. Often you read about the DMK paying compensation to gain sympathy and political mileage. In his hey days AMR had diligently and strenuously raised funds for the DMK, on a regular basis, for the Elections, for Conferences and for Party Promotions. He called-on the DMK Chief every time on his birthday bringing with him the ‘wishes’ of self-abnegating party men of his constituency. Why wasn’t the DMK with him during the disaster which many said was the worst ever in the State at that time? AMR lost everything he had built: his Home-partly burnt, his workshop – fully burnt and razed to the ground; his White-Goods Outlet – every item stolen and the remains burnt. AMR’s soul too was burnt and broken – but who tried to mend it?

AMR did get some miserly compensation in the form of Insurance claims which took enormous time to come, and after many a visit to the then Salem District Collector’s Office (…later they became friends for life). He patiently waited out the bad times and when it was the State Assembly Elections again, he won convincingly, predominantly on the sympathy of having suffered so much. He gradually started over again, going into the Milk Transport business this time, but could never fully recover and settle the accumulated losses and accrued debts. Some even goaded him to ‘learn corruption’ and at least to make up for his losses – but he stood his ground, on keeping his integrity and following his core principles. He died trying to build-up again: a broken man.

When AMR died of a cardiac arrest in January 2012 at the age of 78, none from the DMK Founding Family visited to pay respects and homage to one of the most dedicated and honest workers of the DMK. When the funeral procession passed from 162 Gandhi Nagar to the nearby Cemetery, almost all Shops enroute, in Attur, voluntarily downed their shutters as a mark of respect. I remember an eight-year-old, watching from the sidelines say, ‘I know this Thatta (Grandfather)’. AMR had touched the lives of many in Attur.

After near about two years the son of the DMK Chief does make a visit for a photo opportunity with the widow of AMR, in a quite dilapidated 162 Gandhi Nagar. My heart burns to this day on the injustice meted out to an honourable man. I call him the Kamaraj of our times!




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