A day after the Supreme Court pronounced a historical verdict of acquitting the remaining convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, some of them walked out free on Saturday - November 12 from their respective prisons in Tamil Nadu. The convicts were incarcerated for over three decades and on Friday, the apex court ordered their release by contending that it found no reason why they should be in prison any longer.
Perarivalan, Nalini, Murugan alias Sriharan, Santhan, Ravichandran, Robert Pais, and Jayakumar were the seven convicts lodged in prison for assassinating the-then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. They were awarded the death sentence in 1999 and while Nalini's death sentence was commuted to life in 2000 under the grounds of being a woman, the death penalty on the rest of the convicts was commuted to life in 2014, when they had already spent over two decades behind the bars.
Nalini, who was married to the co-convict Murugan, before the assassination plot, was pregnant when she came into the prison and she has been described as the longest-serving woman inmate in India. The convicts lodged a legal battle seeking premature release and in 2018, the Tamil Nadu government passed a resolution recommending the Governor acquit them.
However, the resolution was rusted on the Governor's desk and Perarivalan's mother held a separate legal battle to free his son. Under the grounds of finding his conduct in the prison satisfactory and that he had spent over three decades in the prison, the Supreme Court in May 2022 released Perarivalan and this ruling came as a hope for the rest of the convicts. Based on this verdict, Nalini and Ravichandran approached the top court seeking premature release.
The Supreme Court released Perarivalan by invoking its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and on Friday, the same ruling of acquittal was awarded to the remaining six convicts, ordering their immediate release. The Supreme Court ruling in this high-profile case was pronounced by a bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna, which noted that the convicts have spent over three decades in prison and that their conduct during their jail term was satisfactory.
By ordering the premature release of all six convicts, the Supreme Court ruled, "The appellants are directed to be set at liberty if not required in any other matter." The bench noted that the order of Perarivalan is applicable to the present applicants and that the Tamil Nadu Governor didn't act on the recommendations from the state government to release the convicts.
The Supreme Court on Friday poured relief to all the six convicts by ordering their release based on the direction given to Perarivalan, their conduct, and the state government's recommendation to the Governor. The top court observed that the legal reasoning for releasing a convict in the case was already established when Perarivalan was released and that the same arguments would apply in the cases of the other convicts.
"We have no reason to keep you in jail any longer", the judges observed. Coming down hard on the Governor, the court said that a Governor is bound by the resolutions a state government makes and highlighted that in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed multiple resolutions for the release of the convicts, and the cabinet has recommended the release of the convicts and sent the same to the Governor. However, the Governor's office refused to respond to the recommendations.
The court noted, "It can be seen that the Honorable Governor in the matter of an Appellant convicted for 302 - punishment for murder was bound by the decision of the state, which here has recommended remission for the applicants." In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a suicide bomber of LTTE in Sriperumbudur, and in January 1998, a TADA court sentenced 26 accused to death. However, a year later, in 1999, 19 persons were acquitted while the rest seven - Perarivalan, Nalini, Murugan, Santhan, Ravichandran, Robert Pais, and Jayakumar were given the death sentence.
Of these six, Robert Pais and Jayakumar were lodged at Puzhal Central Prison in Chennai while the rest were lodged at Vellore Central jail. It must be noted that Nalini was on parole and a day after the verdict, Robert Pais and Jayakumar walked out of the prison on Saturday while Nalini had completed the formalities for a complete acquittal. As they come out of jail for the first time in several years, people thronged the Puzhal jail to witness their release.
Notably, Perarivalan, who got acquitted earlier this year, came to the prison to welcome his fellow convicts and the visuals from outside the prison suggested that the people welcome this verdict of releasing them on humanitarian grounds. Robert Pais and Jayakumar came out of the prison during the evening hours of Saturday and they were welcomed by Perarivalan and other people while Nalini was seen getting released from Vellore prison.
After the acquittal, Nalini said, "I am thankful to the people of Tamil Nadu who supported me for 32 years. I thank both, the State and Union Governments. I will speak about the rest in Chennai tomorrow during Press Meet." Bakianathan, Nalini's brother, said, "Nalini and our family are very happy today. She is going to live a normal life with her family. We will try to get an appointment with him (CM MK Stalin)." On the other hand, Murugan, Santhan, and Ravichandran are in the process of completing the formalities.
The Supreme Court's ruling of releasing all the remaining six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi case in one go has sparked a political conflict in Tamil Nadu. While Chief Minister MK Stalin welcomed the verdict as a major victory, he got support from several allied parties like VCK and Communist outfits, but not from the major ally - the Congress party, which strongly opposed the ruling and said that the verdict is totally unacceptable and completely erroneous.
Vellore, Tamil Nadu | Nalini Sriharan, one of the six convicts in the assassination of former PM Rajiv Gandhi released from Vellore Jail. pic.twitter.com/SV6JzO62ft— ANI (@ANI) November 12, 2022
I am thankful to the people of Tamil Nadu who supported me for 32 years. I thank both, the State and Union Government. I will speak about the rest in Chennai tomorrow during Press Meet. Supreme Court lawyers will also speak tomorrow: Nalini Sriharan pic.twitter.com/Y7ZppeUNOK— ANI (@ANI) November 12, 2022