A Naval Rating’s Assault on Rajiv Gandhi, 30 July 1987: Detailed Account

Retd. Lt. KH Perera’s Account of the Background, Circumstances and Immediate Aftermath of the Assault on Rajiv Gandhi, on 30th July 1987

Preamble:  Via mediation by Rtd Commodore Somasiri Devendra,[1] Michael Roberts visited Retd Lt. KH Perera’s house at Boralasgamuwa on Thursday 25th July 2019 in the company of Devendra.  Retd Lt Perera responded readily to the questions presented about the attempt to clobber the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi when he was inspecting a naval guard of honour gathered in front of the President’s House outside the Post Office in the Fort of Colombo on 30th July 1987. As Master Chief Petty Officer, KH Perera was in command of the naval ratings mustered for this important state occasion. The details elicited during our discussion and compiled here with aid from Somasiri Devendra are of considerable importance and cannot be overestimated.

Summary Account: Reconstruction of Events

  • Rehearsals began four days earlier. The senior sailor commanding the Guard of Honour was Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO) K. H. Perera (now a retired Lieutenant) the Gunnery Instructor (GI).
  • During rehearsals, sailors are arranged in order of height. They will remain in that position. They are assigned positions so that the tallest are on the two ends of each of the two rows, with the shortest in the middle. Throughout the exercise their positions do not change. Rohana[2] was assigned 4th place from the end of the first row. Therefore, he knew his position in the front row from Day #1, but it was not a position of his choosing.
  • These are sailors who have taken part in many parades. Therefore, none of them expected JRJ to inspect the Guard along with Rajiv, because that was the protocol: The Guard of Honour was for Rajiv, and only he would inspect it. Therefore, the target of the attack was Rajiv, and not JRJ: this is contrary to some speculation that JRJ was the target.
  • After the last rehearsal the GI had the Guard inspected by his senior officers and asked the sailors on the Guard whether they understood every order and whether there were any questions. Normally there are no questions, but after a while Rohana said he had a question, which was whether he could go home and return. The GI turned down the request because, given the unsettled conditions in the country, such a course of action was not possible. Why Rohana asked this is not known.
  • Before marching the Guard to Queen’s House, the GI inspected the rifles and made sure that all the bolts of the rifles had been removed. Therefore, they could not be fired. This is normal. The rifles used were Chinese SLRs, the standard rifle used by the Navy then.
  • The GI was standing alone behind the second row of the Guard, with the General Post Office building behind him. As usual, he had his eyes fixed/focused on the VIP (Rajiv), following him step by step. He thinks he may have sensed a slight movement at the corner of his eyes, but he cannot be certain.
  • When the Guard is being inspected the sailors are at Attention, with the rifle (bayonets affixed), butt resting on the ground) pressed against his right leg, parallel with the trouser seam, and with his right hand at full stretch, holding it by the muzzle between his thumb and forefinger. The elbow is locked, not bent. The left hand is parallel to the seam of the left trouser leg
  • .
  • The blow that was delivered was by swinging the rifle in an arc backwards and over, to hit the target on the way down. This requires both hands holding it by the muzzle. It also requires the legs to be apart (not at Attention). Therefore, Rohana had, in a split second moved his legs (left leg forward or right leg back), while bringing the left hand across his body. He must have planned the move and perfected it. The photo taken from behind shows the gap in the line created by his stepping out – left foot forward.
  • This photo also suggests that Admiral Silva was quicker than the Indian bodyguard in impeding the blow.
  • Why did no other sailor try to stop him? The Guard is trained not to move without an order even if an elephant falls down before them. Sailors are confident that there are persons who will deal with unexpected situations. So, they do not react. This is the discipline instilled by drill.
  • As the blow was being delivered, Rajiv Gandhi’s bodyguard, in a black suit, jumped on Rohana, making him fall on the ground. The rifle, swinging down, glanced off the arm of Captain of the Navy (Admiral HA Silva) who was half a step behind Rajiv, lost some momentum and hit Rajiv on his shoulder.
  • Gunnery Instructor Perera, Indian bodyguards and other officers arresting Rohana de Silva
  • GI immediately ran through the second rank (the incident took place at an angle to his position) and grabbed Rohana by his collar below his throat and pulled him up to a standing position. Admiral. Silva ordered him to place Rohana under arrest and take him to NHQ. He took Rohana behind the second row of the guard, held him against a lamp post and searched him for weapons. Rohana asked him not to hit him and that he was willing to talk. A Police Inspector tried to take Rohana off the GI in order to arrest him, but Perera did not allow that, There was no assigned vehicle for the next step, but there was an Army Jeep close by. Without waiting for orders the soldier driving it took them on board, swung the vehicle around and drove through traffic to Naval HQ. The Inspector persisted in trying to arrest Rohana and he ran up and jumped in and accompanied them to Naval HQ. It transpired that he was one of JRJ’s bodyguards.
  • At NHQ, GI surrendered the prisoner to Lt. Cdr. Sarath Weerasekera, Duty Officer and went up the Office of the Chief of Staff, Rear Adm. J. Jayasuriya and reported the matter. He was then instructed to take the prisoner to Police HQ, 4th Floor, for questioning and to bring him back.
  • At Police HQ the mood was one of admiration for Rohana, because 80% of the country was anti-Indian. Rohana was calm and remarked that Rajiv must now be going home massaging his shoulder! He was treated with respect by the Police; he was given lunch of hoppers. GI is not aware what his statement was as he was asked to wait in another room. Rohana was released into Naval custody After the second day the Police became more professional.
  • At the Courts Martial, Rohana had several lawyers appearing free of charge. The senior Counsel was Stanley Tillekeratne, one-time Speaker of Parliament. When GI was giving evidence, he was asked whether sailors in the Guard were trained in the use of weapons, but the Navy Judge Advocate, who was the Prosecuting Counsel, objected that this was a leading question and it was not allowed. Rohana faced a lot of charges, including Attempt to Murder. The Defence Counsel asked the prisoner in the dock why he did not lunge at the target with his bayonet. He replied that even if it was a broomstick that he had in his hand he would have hit him with the broomstick. Attempt to Murder could not be maintained.[3]



[1] Retd Commodore Somasiri Devendra mediated this visit. His presence was vital in generating trust. He was NOT a witness to the events. As a man of letters, his input in creating this account has been invaluable. As a military man his knowledge of the technicalities of parade drill was (and is) also of central importance. Note that he has an older brother Tissa, who is also a man of letters, and that is why I adhere to the principle of naming him in full.

[2] Wijemuni Vijitha Rohana de Silva (born 1965) is from Boosa on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka and educated at Gintota Maha Vidyalaya; passing the O Levels before joining the SL Navy (data from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vijitha_Rohana

[3]  De Silva faced a court martial composed of K.R.L. Perera, Group Captain Buddhi Siriwardhena and Colonel Vijaya Wimalaratne. This body found him guilty of attempted culpable homicide not amounting to murder and insulting the Indian Prime Minister. He was sentenced to six years in prison, however President Premadasa gave him a presidential pardon after two and a half years……………………………….. ………………. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vijitha_Rohana#Court_martial


Michael Roberts:Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture, 2010, Vol 1, No. 1, pp.25-41.

Michael Roberts: 2010c “Self Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2010, pp. 161-201.


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3 responses to “A Naval Rating’s Assault on Rajiv Gandhi, 30 July 1987: Detailed Account

  1. I was very busy on this day, Michael! giving birth to my son Tristan! Needless to say, this is the first I am hearing of this incident! *Jeni xxx*

  2. Pingback: IPKF and Sri Lankan Military at Ease, 1987-90 | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Pingback: India’s Kashmir Action: Severe Implications for Sri Lankan Tamils | Thuppahi's Blog

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