A day after the Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction over the inaction of the Tamil Nadu Governor’s office over taking a decision on the release of Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts, it seems the government is moving quickly.
Governor Banwarilal Purohit met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 4 and during his three-day visit to the national capital, he also called on President Ramnath Kovind and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, the state government has extended the parole of one of the seven convicts, AG Perarivalan, for another two weeks.
The Governor’s choice
It is expected that instead of releasing all the seven convicts in one go, the government may opt for a phased release. Perarivalan could be released first.
The convicts are in prison for 30 years and their pardon plea is pending before the Governor for the last two years. In 2018, the Tamil Nadu government passed a resolution demanding release of the convicts. It has been sent to the Governor for approval.
But the Governor has not taken a decision, maintaining that he is awaiting a report of the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA), a CBI branch set up in 1998 to probe the international angle of the case.
It is in this backdrop, the SC’s observation came while hearing the petition of Perarivalan, who has sought suspension of his sentence till the MDMA submits its final report.
“The MDMA had been submitting its reports frequently in the court. In order to know the details of those reports, Perarivalan has approached the court in the past. But the apex court has said that MDMA’s investigation has nothing to do with him. That’s why when the Governor cited the final MDMA report as a reason for delaying his decision, the court said that MDMA was formed to probe a larger conspiracy behind the involvement of others besides those convicted,” said Sivakumar, one of the advocates appearing for Perarivalan.
There are only two possibilities: either the Governor grants permission to release the convicts or rejects the recommendation made by state.
“If he rejects the plea, the state government could send the recommendation again, forcing him to decide. So, now the Governor is cornered,” said Selvaraj Murugaiyan, founder, People’s Movement Against Death Penalty, who fought for commuting the death sentence of Perarivalan to life.
In the case of Dharmapuri bus burning case, the Governor had first rejected the state’s recommendation to release the three convicts. Then the AIADMK ministers met the Governor in person and requested him to give the assent and he did. Likewise, the ministers should act now, he added.
“The next hearing is due November 23. We expect the Governor to arrive at a decision before that,” said Selvaraj Murugaiyan.
“In the past we thought the Congress would not allow the convicts to be released. But the party leaders now accept the pardon. The Centre thinks that if the convicts are released, it will become an image issue for them. It’d be as if Tamil Nadu has won over the Centre or BJP for that matter. So it is doubtful whether all the seven convicts could be released at one go,” said Murugaiyan.
The case against Perarivalan is that he bought two batteries. Former CBI officer V Thiagarajan has also admitted that while recording Perarivalan’s confession, he omitted to record most things. When Perarivalan was arrested he was 19 years old and he has spent his most productive years in jail. He is also having some health issues. Considering all these aspects, Perarivalan could be the first person to be released, Murugaiyan added.
‘BJP under pressure’
The ruling AIADMK-BJP relations are apparently strained, though they are in a coalition. It is a fact that BJP’s efforts to consolidate the Hindu votes in the state have been thwarted by the government. So, it is doubtful the BJP would agree to the release in the first attempt.
The BJP has not been able to stir the Hindu sentiment starting from marketing Athi Varadar function, a once in 40-year occasion, into a Hindutva agenda to asking the Hindus to worship Murugan in their homes and chant Kanda Shasti Kavacham.
Ironically, during the Kanda Shasti Kavacham occasion, the images gone viral showed that most state BJP leaders don’t have Lord Murugan as a main deity in their house and the ‘Vel’ (the weapon the deity carries) was made up of cardboard and thermocol.
Adding salt to the BJP injury, the state has recently disallowed its ‘Vetrivel Yatra’. However, the party’s state president L Murugan has defied the order and launched the yatra. On November 6, he went to Tiruttani as part of the yatra. But he was detained on the way, though the police allowed him to proceed further.
“All this shows the BJP is under pressure to arrive at a decision in the Rajiv convicts case. However, its decision to release the convicts may not get it the votes, though the issue is on the political agenda of all parties in the state. It will not help even the AIADMK or DMK,” said well-known political observer Tharasu Shyam.
The people of Tamil Nadu never considered the Sri Lankan question as an electoral issue. Likewise, the BJP’s drive such as the ‘Vel Yatra’ is outdated,” he said.
From the judicial point of view, the SC has made the observation only orally; it has not set a deadline, Shyam said.
“In jurisprudence, the term ‘sufficient reason’ is important. The Governor has said he is waiting for the final MDMA report. That acts as a sufficient reason. If there is a sufficient reason, any delay can be condonable,” he said.
During Jayalalithaa’s regime the state tried to release the convicts since they are sentenced within the state’s prison. But the court has said that rule cannot be applied to the case probed by the CBI.
“The President can act on his pleasure. But a Governor can act only on the advice of the council of ministers. Even in the 7.5% reservation case, the state’s act looks derailed from rule of law. The Governor’s assent to the state re-recommendation can be applied only for law bills. For resolutions, it cannot be applied. So the state should apply enough political pressure to release them. That’s the only way,” said Shyam.
The state BJP leaders were not available for comment.