He has 17 pellets in his body still, D Pandian says, tracing at least three on his right hand. But the pain he carries, he says, is about something else.
On October 15, Pandian, 86, wrote a letter to Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit seeking that all the seven convicts in prison in connection with the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case be released “on humanitarian grounds”. The CPI leader, who was seriously injured in the May 21, 1991, attack that killed the former prime minister, is the only one among the injured to demand so, saying “no civilised society can give justification for keeping someone in prison for over 28 years”.
In a state where the release of Rajiv case convicts often raises political debates, Pandian, once the state CPI secretary, is an exception, for being neither a death penalty abolitionist nor an LTTE supporter. Reiterating that he doesn’t have any sympathy for the seven convicts, he adds, “Judiciary is meant to reform people. If you cannot reform these people after 20 years, then something is seriously wrong with your judicial system.”
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the CBI had chargesheeted 41 people for the blast, that killed 15 others apart from Rajiv. Twelve of the accused died in the blast or later during investigation. In 1998, a TADA court sentenced 26 to death. In May 1999, the Supreme Court freed 19, commuted the death sentence of Robert Pious, Ravichandran and Jayakumar to life, and upheld death for Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini. Later, the death sentences of the last four were also commuted to life.
Among the seven, Nalini was the only person who witnessed the blast. All others were arrested for their association with the main assassin, Sivarasan, who was killed in an encounter in Bengaluru following the killing.
How could a country that let even those involved in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination have a second chance, deny the same to the seven, Pandian says, sitting in his old two-storey house in Anna Nagar West in Chennai. “This is India, we have our own values in showing the right path. Can there be a greater murderer than Mahatma Gandhi’s? If our system can release Gopal Godse and let him write a book about his crime, why not these seven convicts?”
In his letter to Governor Purohit, Pandian also pointed out that the seven in jail had played a secondary role in the assassination. “The investigating agency convicted the by-standers and people who unknowingly helped the assassins, while the assassins were killed without an iota of intention to catch them alive. In the annals of the Supreme Court, there has never been a case where the suspects were awarded capital punishment even before the investigation was complete (a probe into the larger conspiracy is still on).”
That day, Pandian, a candidate for the Porur parliamentary constituency, was accompanying Rajiv as he toured the state in the run-up to the 1991 elections. Pandian was with the United Communist Party of India (UCPI) of S A Dange at the time, and it was in alliance with the Congress.
When the blast went off, killing Rajiv, Pandian was pierced by over 100 pellets and nails. “Lying half-conscious, I thought a cracker had misfired. As I was shifted to hospital in Chennai, I had no idea Rajiv was killed.” While Pandian spent several weeks in hospital, he doesn’t carry any effects of the blast, except those pellets. However, owing to kidney failure, he has been undergoing dialysis.
Pandian, who deposed before the court in the case, has no links with the Congress anymore, and says that while a few Central ministers visited him after the blast, no one from the Gandhi family came. The CPI supports his letter on release of the seven convicts.
In the letter, Pandian specifically mentioned the case of Perarivalan, who was convicted for procuring a battery required for the bomb. Nineteen at the time, he suffers from various ailments now. Perarivalan’s mother is one of the prime forces behind the attempts to get the seven released.
With Sri Lanka facing another crisis in which India finds itself on the wrong foot, Pandian says, “India’s Lanka approach was always wrong. You trained them (the LTTE), gave them weapons. Then you gave arms to the Sri Lankan government and made the two fight. We need to make corrections.”
The price, he adds, can’t be paid by the seven convicts. “These are people who were caught in the middle of this flawed diplomacy. Releasing these people offers an opportunity for India and (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi to show the world how they reformed convicts in such a high-profile case. Those who are wise can do that.”