New Delhi, August 11 (NDTV): The seven Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts jailed in Tamil Nadu cannot be released, the Indian government told the Supreme Court on Thursday, asserting that the case involves the assassination of a former Prime Minister.
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was a “most heinous and brutal crime,” the government said, one which had brought the Indian democratic process to a grinding halt as general and state elections had to be postponed.
“The murder of an ex-PM was an act unparalleled in the annals of crime committed in the country,” said the Centre.
The CBI, which investigated the case, has opposed the release of the seven convicts.
Tamil Nadu had been informed of the decision on April 18, the centre said.
The convicts – Perarivalan, Murugan, Santham, Nalini Sriharan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran – have been in jail for 27 years, serving life terms.
The court had asked the centre to decide and respond to Tamil Nadu’s request to release them. A Constitution Bench of top Supreme Court judges had said in 2015 that the convicts cannot be released without the central government’s consent.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 by a woman operative of the separatist Lankan Tamil outfit LTTE, who greeted him at a rally in Sriperumbudur town with a bomb strapped to her chest.
In April, the Madras High Court rejected Nalini Sriharan’s request for early release. Her death sentence was commuted on the request of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, the wife of Rajiv Gandhi.
Another convict, Perarivalan, had requested that the case be reopened and his conviction be cancelled. The Supreme Court rejected it in March.
Perarivalan, 19 at the time, was convicted for supplying two nine-volt batteries for the belt-bomb. He told a court that he had no idea what the batteries were for.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv Gandhi, had said he had no objection to Perarivalan’s release, Tamil film director PA Ranjith was quoted as saying recently.
The assassination, the trial and the convicts have been an emotive subject in Tamil Nadu over the years, key to the campaigns of the two main parties in the state, the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK. Many in Tamil Nadu believe that the convicts played minor roles and were drawn into a plot they knew little about.
In 2014, then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa decided to release the convicts but the centre – the Congress-led government was in power – challenged her decision. The Supreme Court then said the state could not take such a decision without the centre’s sanction, as the case was investigated by the CBI.
(The featured images above are those of: Mururgan, Perarivalan, Santhan, Nalini, Ravichandran, Roberty Payas, and Jayakumar)