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Cannot release Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, will set dangerous precedent: Centre tells SC

The Centre rejected a proposal by the Tamil Nadu government to release the seven convicted of assassinating former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, saying the move would have “international ramifications”.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2018 22:58 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rajiv Gandhi killers,Rajiv Gandhi assassination,Rajiv Gandhi
A 1986 photograph of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. (HT Archive )

The central government has finally opposed the 2014 decision of the Tamil Nadu government on the release of seven convicts guilty of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, saying the release of the convicts, four of whom are foreigners, would “set a very dangerous precedent and lead to international ramifications”.

It informed the Supreme Court of its decision on Friday and added that it had examined the matter and also taken the view of the investigative agency that looked into the assassination, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which also opposed the release.

The central government’s decision brings an end to a four-year drama involving it, the TN government, CBI, and members of the Gandhi family.

It is likely to be met with dismay in Tamil Nadu, where the release of the seven has become a political issue — one supported by the two poles of state politics, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

The seven, V Sriharan alias Murugan, T Suthenthirarajan alias Santhan, A G Perarivalan, S Jayakumar, B Robert Payas, P Ravichandran and S Nalini, have been in jail since 1991.

It was an AIADMK government, headed by the late J Jayalalithaa that sent the 2014 letter to the central government, echoing sentiments of some people in the state that the seven were minor accessories to the crime and had done their time.

In 2000, the death sentence of one of the accused S Nalini, was reduced to a life sentence at the instance of Rajiv Gandhi’s widow and then Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In 2008, Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Vadra met Nalini at the Vellore jail and said it was her way to come to peace with the violence she had experienced.

In 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan, and AG Perivalan to life. In July, Tamil film director Pa Ranjith claimed after a meeting with Rahul Gandhi that the latter had told him that he had no objection to the release of Perivalan.

On Friday, the President of India’s letter dated April 18, 2018 to the Tamil Nadu government was placed before a three-judge SC bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi, Navin Sinha and KM Joseph, which took it on record.

In 2014, the TN government took the decision to free the convicts, and requested the central government to convey its views within three days as the investigation in the case was done by CBI. The central government approached the Supreme Court and got a stay on the release proposal of the Tamil Nadu government. The court ruled that the convicts could only be released with the concurrence of the centre. With no response from the Centre, in 2016, the TN government again wrote a letter seeking its views.

It eventually approached the Supreme Court which issued an order in January 2018 asking the central government for its position -- resulting in the April letter.

Opposing the release of the convicts, the letter says: “The case involves assassination of the former PM of India who was brutally assassinated in pursuance of a diabolical plot executed by a highly organised foreign terrorist group. The plot was executed with the active help and participation of these convicts and others who were LTTE militants. “

The letter added that the killing had “brought the Indian democratic process to a grinding halt in as much as the general elections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies in some States had to be postponed”. When contacted state law minister C Ve Shanmugam, said the TN Government is firm on its stand, seeking the release of convicts. “As per the decision taken by our demised leader J Jayalalithaa, we are leading a legal struggle for the release of convicts associated with the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. As the final direction has not been awarded, we will continue our legal struggle,” Shanmugam told the HT.

First Published: Aug 10, 2018 12:34 IST