The Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of three men convicted of killing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to life in prison, rejecting the government’s view that an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy petition was not agony for them. The convicts, Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, can also walk out of jail if the Tamil Nadu government grants them remission, the court ruled. The decision is a politically motivated one and ahead of the General election, due by May. The court did not accept the government’s view that the convicts did not deserve mercy. Tuesday’s verdict follows the Supreme Court’s January 21 order commuting the death sentences of 15 convicts, announcing that “inordinate and inexplicable” delays in carrying out executions were grounds for reducing their original punishment.
Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan were convicted in 1998 for Rajeev Gandhi’s assassination by a woman who greeted him with a garland and a bomb strapped to her chest during a rally in 1991. Their mercy petition was sent to the President, the last stage in the process of appeals, in 2000 and was rejected 11 years later. Their hanging was stayed in 2011 on the orders of the Madras High Court. That year, the Tamil Nadu assembly had passed a resolution urging the President to grant mercy to the convicts and consider “Tamil sentiment.” The ruling that the state government will decide whether to free them has inevitably taken a political turn.
The three convicts are locked up in individual cells between 6 pm and 6 am ever since they were lodged in Vellore Central Prison in 1998. Keeping prisoners in introverted imprisonment was a severe punishment as they would not be able to ventilate their feelings by way of interacting with others. Considering the steep rise in the number of psychological problems among prisoners, the Tamil Nadu government had appointed qualified psychologists in all prisons. The State Health Department had directed all psychiatrists attached to the DMHP to visit prisons once in a fortnight and provide treatment to the needy. He said prisoners suffering separation from family, friends and the society and those subjected to solitary confinement were likely to develop mental illness.
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi occurred as a result of a suicide bombing in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, on 21 May 1991. At least, 14 others were also killed. It was carried out by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also known as Dhanu. The attack was blamed on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist organisation from Sri Lanka; at the time India had just ended its involvement, through the Indian Peace Keeping Force, in the Sri Lankan Civil War. Subsequent accusations of conspiracy have been addressed by two commissions of inquiry and have brought down at least one national government. Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning for the upcoming elections. On 21 May, after successfully campaigning in Visakhapatnam, his next stop was Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. About two hours after arriving in Madras (now Chennai), Rajiv Gandhi was driven by motorcade in a white Ambassador car to Sriperumbudur, stopping along the way at a few other election campaigning venues. When he reached a campaign rally in Sriperumbudur, he got out of his car and began to walk towards the dais where he would deliver a speech. Along the way, he was garlanded by many well-wishers, Congress party workers and school children.
At 22:21, the assassin, Dhanu, approached and greeted him. She then bent down to touch his feet and detonated an RDX explosive-laden belt tucked below her dress.
Gandhi, his assassin and 14 others were killed in the explosion. The assassination was caught on film by a local photographer, whose camera and film was found at the site though the photographer himself died in the blast. Don’t forget that Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination came at a time when the Indian state was facing its worst-ever period, even an existential crisis. Many enemies of the state and their foreign collaborators were hyperactive in 1991 in trying to dismember India; but we know nothing about this, thanks to our media’s relative blindness on such issues.
Perarivalan did one mistake. The conspirators gave him (he was just 19!) money and told him to buy them batteries, which he did. He did not know who they were or what their intentions were. For this, he lost the best years of his life and his health. He was brutally tortured during the investigation in those years. Those police officers are still being held in high regard. Meanwhile, Rajeev Gandhi’s assassination is a bit mysterious, no one has been punished. With our government commuting the death sentence previously awarded to the terrorists who plotted the death of Rajiv Gandhi, we are setting up a dangerous precedence which would encourage other anti-national elements and terrorists to commit more heinous crimes against the citizens of this country. Is this move meant to condone the activities of the LTTE or is it aimed at trying to garner a few votes from Tamil Nadu for the UPA, one is tempted to ask. However, no Indian with self -respect can forget the way our sentiments were betrayed by the Lankan Tamils when the assassinators killed Rajiv Gandhi and two thousand army personnel in the 1980’s. What about the families of the victims, who waited for decade to see the culprits hanging? It was not their fault that justice has been delayed. Who will provide justice to them?
Moreover, if the Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence on the ground of delay in deciding on the mercy petition then what is the accountability of the president who was putting the decision in cold storage? Moreover, along with Rajiv, some 15 innocent people had lost their lives. Who will give them justice? Agreed, these three convicts have suffered a lot in jail and that too in solitary confinement but they had committed a brutal crime. However, the atrocities done by Sri Lankans in the war and post war were genocide with the help of Indian Army. Who was responsible for that?