Rajiv’s killers may walk free soon, TN governor to decide in ‘3-4 days’

The Centre has told the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition on the release of the convicts, that the Tamil Nadu (TN) governor Banwarilal Purohit will make his decision on the matter soon.

Photo: PTI File.

The release of all the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, which has been pending for over two years despite the state cabinet’s decision to set them free, is likely to happen soon, considering what transpired in the Supreme Court on Thursday (January 21).

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition on the release of the convicts, that the Tamil Nadu (TN) governor, Banwarilal Purohit, who has to sign off on their release, will make his decision on the matter within “three to four days.” Two of the killers, Nalini and Perarivalan, in fact, had earlier petitioned the courts, seeking their release under article 161 of the Constitution, which deals with his judicial powers in the matter.

The AIADMK government had set the ball rolling for the release of these convicts by recommending to the state governor in 2018 for the premature release of all the seven life convicts — Murugan, Santhan, A G Perarivalan, Jayakumar, Ravichandran, Robert Payas and Nalini Sriharan. These convicts were serving life imprisonment in various jails across TN. The cabinet’s decision, however, required the final nod from the governor, who ostensibly since then had not moved on the matter.

The apex court had also earlier expressed its unhappiness over the governor’s “tardiness” over the issue.

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For the past couple of years, Nalini and Perarivalan, have been knocking at the doors of the judiciary, seeking a pardon and an early release. In fact, Nalini, a life convict at the Special Prison for Women in Vellore, made a petition to the TN home secretary in 2018, recalling that she had made a representation on February 22, 2014 itself, to the government seeking her release under Article 161 of the Constitution.

Her plea came in the wake of the Supreme Court asking the TN governor to consider the mercy petition of Perarivalan, seeking remission or pardon under Article 161 of the constitution.  Perarivalan was awarded the death penalty in 1991 for his involvement in  providing a nine-volt battery to co-conspirator Sivarasan, which was used in the explosive device that killed Rajiv Gandhi. In 2014, the apex court commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

The Centre, however, has been opposed to the release of the prisoners. They had even petitioned the court opposing TN government’s earlier proposal to release the convicts(which was struck down). The Centre argued that the remission of their sentences will set a “dangerous precedent” and have “international ramifications”.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber Dhanu at an election rally in Sriperambudur on May 21, 1991.

The Centre has even set up a Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA), to investigate the larger conspiracy behind the former prime minister’s assassination. And, the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is part of the committee, has told the SC that it is still investigating the larger conspiracy behind the former prime minister’s assassination.

Meanwhile, the release of these prisoners is an emotive issue in TN, and all the major political parties have thrown their weight in favour of their release. Commenting on the AIADMK’s government’s recommendation to release the prisoners, DMK president Stalin had said that the TN governor should immediately implement (the cabinet decision) to “bring joy to the people”. Besides the DMK, the PMK and AMMK also hailed the move.

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However, the TNCC president Su Thirunavukkarasar was a dissenting voice when he asked the governor to toe the Centre’s earlier line. He said that thought the convicts had been in prison for a long time, their release would set a “wrong precedent”. Law is common for all, he said and if you take decisions based on mercy, it will set a wrong precedent in the future.

Yet, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has also said that he had forgiven his father’s killers and had no objection to their release.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, too, was not in favour of their release. The government’s  recommendation was not binding on the governor. “He has the sole discretion. I am sure he will go through the record. Given his scholarly habit, he’ll reject the recommendation,” he had told ANI at that time.

Now, it is the turn of the TN governor to react.

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