Final chapter unfolding; more will seek freedom – Times of India

Chennai News

CHENNAI: Condemned by courts and also saved by courts, they faced shock and awe at every stage. This is how the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, at the centre of a threedecade-long legal battle, will be remembered in Tamil Nadu.
With the Supreme Court’s May 18 verdict ordering immediate release of A G Perarivalan, the final chapter of the saga has started unfolding.
‘Inordinate and unexplainable’ delay by the President led to commutation of the death penalty of Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan into imprisonment for life. Now, delay by the Tamil Nadu governor, who sat on the cabinet recommendation for their release for more than two-and-a-half years, has begun to benefit them.
Veteran jurist Justice K Chandru told a senior journalist more than 14 years ago that the Rajiv case convicts should not hurry to pursue the pending mercy pleas because ‘delay’ will ultimately help them escape the noose and even prison.
After the 1991 assassination, the judicial pendulum swung to one extreme when a designated TADA court convicted all 26 accused and sentenced them to death in 1998. The next year, the Supreme Court swung it to the other end by knocking off the death sentence of 19 people and confirming it for only four. Three others — Robert Payas, Ravichandran and Jayakumar — were imprisoned for life.
Though the TN cabinet recommended commutation of death sentence for Nalini, the then governor Fatima Beevi returned it, only to give assent after the government reiterated the recommendation.
The mercy petitions of Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan were rejected but a week before their scheduled hanging on September 9, 2011, a division bench of Madras high court stayed it. Their final escape from the noose was scripted by the Supreme Court in 2014 when it commuted their death penalty to life term.
During the entire period, governments promised relief, but the courts provided it. The Jayalalithaa government unsuccessfully tried to use the CrPC route to free them. Just a couple of months before it lost power, the Congress government at the Centre thwarted the move. Finally, it was in 2018 that the Edappadi K Palaniswami dispensation adopted a cabinet resolution favouring premature release to all seven using the Article 161 route.
The governor ‘referred’ the state cabinet recommendation to the President, prompting the Supreme Court to say: “The governor ought not to have sent the recommendation made by the state cabinet to the President. Such action is contrary to the constitutional scheme.”
Advocate M Radhakrishnan, counsel for Nalini Sriharan, believes she too will find her way out of jail. Advocate and TN Mahila Congress president Sudha Ramakrishnan, however, says the order has set a dangerous precedent, as now others guilty of grave offences will harbor dreams of drumming up political support to be released. “If this is how a guilty person involved in the assassination of a former PM can earn freedom, imagine the plight of common victims of crimes,” she said.