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Over 31 years of jail, seven long years of wait, the many turns in Perarivalan’s case

While the key conspirators and assassins could not be caught alive, 26 accused were sentenced to death in 1998 by a TADA court.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: May 19, 2022 7:33:44 am
Perarivalan also talked about how a decoded radio message, sent on May 7, 1991, showed that only three people were aware of the conspiracy, not including him. (PTI)

FROM WHEN he first filed his mercy petition to when the Supreme Court ordered his release, the case of Rajiv Gandhi murder convict A G Perarivalan was lobbed from the state to the Centre, Governor House to Rashtrapati Bhavan, for seven years. The fortunes of Perarivalan – held at the age of 19 – swung as per the parties in power, even as multiple accounts since the May 21, 1991, assassination and the long probe kept shedding new light on the case.

While the key conspirators and assassins could not be caught alive, 26 accused were sentenced to death in 1998 by a TADA court. In 1999, the Supreme Court acquitted 19. Over the years that followed, the death sentence of four others was commuted to life – A G Perarivalan, Nalini, her husband and Sri Lankan national Murugan, and Santhan.

It’s the books penned by the investigators in the case post-retirement that have raised several critical questions: Did the then CBI chief fail to hand over a crucial video of the assassin to the Special Investigation Team? Was a death sentence handed over just for the purchase of two 9-volt toy batteries, used in the bomb that killed Rajiv, and was it based on a confessional statement under duress? Why was little headway made on the actual making of the bomb? Why was assassin Dhanu’s interaction with a woman Congress leader at the venue not investigated?

Among those who have written or talked at length about the case are the chief of the SIT in the case, D R Karthikeyan; chief investigation officer K Ragothaman; defence counsel C Doraiswamy; one of the inspectors in the probe, P Mohanraj; and Perarivalan.

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Karthikeyan detailed the killing and the investigation in his book Triumph of Truth; while Ragothaman’s Conspiracy to Kill Rajiv Gandhi: From CBI Files alleged that several crucial pieces of evidence were either suppressed or conveniently ignored to “shield many politicians”. One of these, according to him, was a video of Dhanu’s movements prior to the blast.

Perarivalan wrote in his book An Appeal from the Death Row, published in 2006, that he was implicated on the basis of a confession taken under duress, and asks why a probe didn’t try to find out where the bomb was made. He also talked about how a decoded radio message, sent on May 7, 1991, showed that only three people were aware of the conspiracy, not including him.

Incidentally, while two of the accused, Nalini and Ravichandran, were cleared of conspiracy charge based on this evidence by the Supreme Court, Perarivalan was not.

Perarivalan also described in detail the alleged torture he was put through during questioning, especially at the Malligai office of the SIT. While Ragothaman claimed that the accused here were served “the best food including non-vegetarian dishes twice a week”, Doraisamy in his book Mysteries and Secrets Behind the Rajiv Gandhi Murder acknowledges the “torture” and says this did not come to light because the media and public opinion were against the accused.

Doraiswamy also writes that crucial information revealed to the Madras High Court by accused Aathirai on prime accused Sivarasan was ignored by the SIT.

DMK leader and Chief Minister M K Stalin, who met Perarivalan and his family on Wednesday after the Court reprieve, welcomed the order, adding: “The Supreme Court order also clarified that the Governor cannot interfere in the powers of an elected state government.”

The DMK government had given Perarivalan parole soon after it came to power in June 2021, and kept extending it till he got bail from the Supreme Court in March 2022. Since his incarceration in 1991, Perarivalan got out of jail for the first time in 2017, on parole.

The opposition AIADMK also welcomed the Supreme Court’s order, recalling the crucial steps taken by the late J Jayalalithaa for the release of Rajiv case convicts.

Karthikeyan, the former SIT chief, said the Court order was expected. “I see it as the most appropriate decision. I respect the verdict,” he told The Indian Express.

Justice K T Thomas, the Supreme Court judge who headed the Bench that sentenced the accused to death in 1999, said the verdict should be applicable to other convicts too. “For them to be retained in prisons, the advisory committee should have adverse reports against them. There were no such reports against them to my knowledge,” he said.

The Congress expressed “pain” and “disappointment” over the release of Pararivalan, accusing the government of creating such “a situation” as to get the killer of a former PM released for their “petty and cheap politics”.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in Delhi that there is sorrow and fury not only in every Congress worker, but in every citizen who believes in India and Indianness. “A terrorist is a terrorist and should be treated as one.”

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