The Supreme Court of India will today issue orders on a pleading demanding the release of AG Perarivalan, one of the life sentences in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case, who has been behind bars for 31 years. A positive verdict will pave the way for the release of a further six convicts in the case, including Nalini Sriharan and her husband Murugan, a Sri Lankan national.
Perarivalan, who was 19 at the time of the assassination, was accused of buying the two 9-volt batteries for Sivarasan, the LTTE man who directed the assassination. The batteries were used in the bomb to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi.
Perarivalan was sentenced to death by a TADA court in 1998. The following year, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence, but commuted it to life imprisonment in 2014. In March of this year, the Supreme Court granted him bail.
Shortly thereafter, Perarivalan appealed for an early release from prison.
The center had defied Perarivalan’s plea, saying the governor of Tamil Nadu had referred the matter to President Ram Nath Kovind, who had yet to take a phone call.
The Supreme Court had questioned the delay in the matter and the governor’s actions.
The court had found that the governor of Tamil Nadu is bound by the cabinet decision to release all seven convicts in the case and grant them pardons under section 161 of the constitution and would therefore not wait for the president’s response, even though the governor had said so files had been forwarded to the Bureau.
In last week’s hearing, the center drew criticism from the court for arguing that only the president had exclusive powers in clemency cases.
The court said this would mean that the clemencies granted by the governors over the years were unconstitutional.
Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on 21 May 1991 in Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur by a female suicide bomber identified as Dhanu at a campaign rally.
Seven people were convicted in the case. Although all were sentenced to death, the Supreme Court commuted them to life imprisonment in 2014, citing the President’s undue delay in deciding their clemency requests.
The prison sentence of one of them, Nalini Sriharan, was commuted to life in 2000 after the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi’s widow, Sonia Gandhi, because the woman had given birth in prison.
Although the Tamil Nadu cabinet under J. Jayalalithaa and Edappadi K. Palanisami recommended the release of the convicts in 2016 and 2018, successive governors failed to do so. After a long delay, they forwarded it to the President, who acts only on behalf of the Union Cabinet.
Perarivalan and others went to court because, like other convicts, they were denied the waiver after more than 16 years in prison. You have now spent three decades in prison.
Perarivalan, who was in solitary confinement for many years, behaved very well in prison. During his long prison term, he had acquired several academic degrees. He had also written a book.
While Perarivalan maintained all along that he did not know for what purpose he had been asked to obtain the batteries, years later a retired CBI official, Mr Thiagarajan, apologized and claimed he had altered the Perarivalan’s confession.