By Elton Gomes
On Sunday, the Tamil Nadu government decided to recommend the release of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case to the governor. The Tamil Nadu cabinet held a special meeting that was chaired by Chief Minister E Palanisamy. Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, the AIADMK has decided that all seven convicts will be considered for premature release.
State fisheries minister D Jayakumar addressed the media after the meeting. “We will give the recommendation today itself and the course of action will be immediate,” Jayakumar said, India Today reported.
When Jayakumar was asked whether the decision would be scrutinized, he said, “The Governor will have to accept recommendations of the Council of Ministers. There is nothing to reject,” the Hindu reported. The cabinet’s decision to recommend release has been welcomed by political leaders, including DMK president M.K. Stalin.
“The Tamil Nadu Governor should immediately implement (the cabinet decision) to bring joy to the people,” Stalin told reporters. Other political parties like the PMK and AMMK also hailed the decision. PMK founder-leader S. Ramadoss welcomed the cabinet’s move, by saying that the decision was not merely that of the cabinet but it reflected that of the state.
On the other hand, the Congress criticised the Tamil Nadu government over its decision. “Will BJP now with help of friend AIADMK and their appointed governor release terrorists just because they murdered former PM Rajiv Gandhi and others along with him?” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala was quoted by ANI.
What the Supreme Court said
On Thursday, the Supreme Court asked the Tamil Nadu governor to consider Perarivalan’s mercy petition. A bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Naveen Sinha, and K.M. Joseph disposed of the Centre’s petition on a proposal stating that the convicts be released.
On August 10, the Centre told the Supreme Court that it does not agree with the Tamil Nadu government’s proposal to release the seven convicts. The Centre said that remission of the convicts’ sentences could set a “dangerous precedent” and might have “international ramifications”.
Perarivalan alleges that probe is partial
An accused in the case, Perarivalan ha claimed that the investigation has been incomplete and partial. In a letter to the governor, Perarivalan alleged, “The main culprits who designed the bomb made of RDX were not nabbed till date. They are scot-free and investigation is still pending into the vital aspects of the crime itself,” the Hindu reported.
The letter further said, “The charge sheet of the CBI [Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Authority – MDMA], which was constituted pursuant to the Jain Commission report for further investigation of foreign hand in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, is still pending and the real conspirators are yet to be found. There will be no justification in keeping me behind bars even after 25 years of actual punishment when the investigation is itself pending.”
India’s former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, during an election rally at Sriperumbudur, Chennai, by an LTTE suicide bomber named Dhanu. Perarivalan, V. Sriharan alias Murugan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santham, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, P. Ravichandran, and Nalini have been jailed in relation to the case, and have been behind bars for the past 25 years.
In 1999, the Supreme Court had confirmed that Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini will be getting a death sentence, whereas the other three would be getting life imprisonment. In 2000, based on the Tamil Nadu government’s recommendations and an appeal by then Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the governor commuted Nalini’s death sentence.
Thereafter, in 2014, the Supreme Court had commuted the death sentence of Perarivalan, Santhan and Murugan to life imprisonment on the ground of double jeopardy. The then Jayalalithaa government decided to release the convicts, but the Centre opposed this move and it was stayed by the Supreme Court.
On March 2, 2016, the Tamil Nadu government sought the Centre’s opinion on releasing the seven convicts. The apex court in January 2017 asked the Centre to come to a decision within three months. Out of the seven convicts who could benefit from the Tamil Nadu government’s decision, Perarivalan is from Vellore district, Nalini from Chennai, and Ravichandran from Madurai. The other convicts, including Nalini’s husband Murugan, Santhan, Robert Payas, and Jayakumar, are Sri Lankan citizens.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius