Rajiv Gandhi
Rajiv GandhiWikimedia common

A Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Naveen Sinha, and K.M. Joseph was disposing of the Centre's petition on a proposal for the release of the convicts in the case filed by the Tamil Nadu government.

On August 10, the Centre told the apex court that it did not concur with the Tamil Nadu government's proposal to release the seven convicts in the case, saying remission of their sentence will set a "dangerous precedent" and have "international ramifications".

Perarivalan was charged with supplying a 9-volt battery, which was allegedly used for the belt bomb that killed Rajiv Gandhi and 14 others on the night of May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. The belt bomb was triggered by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu, at an election rally.

This was perhaps the first case of a suicide bombing that claimed the life of a high profile leader.

Perarivalan had said he had suffered more than 24 years of solitary/single confinement. "As per jail rules, life imprisonment at ground level is only for a maximum of 20 years and thereafter the prisoner is considered for release. Now I have already undergone more than life imprisonment," his letter to the Governor said.

He had also claimed that the probe was not full-fledged and was incomplete and partial. "The main culprits who designed the bomb made of RDX were not nabbed to date. They are scot-free and the investigation is still pending into the vital aspects of the crime itself," the letter said.

"The charge sheet of the CBI [Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Authority - MDMA], which was constituted pursuant to the Jain Commission report for further investigation of foreign hand in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, is still pending and the real conspirators are yet to be found.

"There will be no justification in keeping me behind bars even after 25 years of actual punishment when the investigation is itself pending", Perarivalan's letter said, giving a detailed outline of the case against him for seeking pardon of his sentence from the Governor.

Convicts Perarivalan, V. Sriharan alias Murugan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santham, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, P. Ravichandaran and Nalini have been in jail for 25 years.

On August 10, the Centre, while holding that it does not concur with the Tamil Nadu government's proposal to release the seven convicts, said the case involved the assassination of a former Prime Minister in a brutal manner in pursuance of a "diabolical" plot carefully conceived and executed by a foreign terrorist organization.

On January 23, the apex court asked the Centre to take a decision within three months on a 2016 letter of the Tamil Nadu government written on March 2, 2016, seeking its concurrence on releasing the seven convicts.

The apex court on February 18, 2014, commuted the death sentence of three convicts — Murugan, Santhan, and Perarivalan — citing inordinate delay by the executive in deciding their mercy plea.

After Rajiv Gandhi's assassination on May 21, 1991, the probe was transferred to a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the CBI on the request of the Tamil Nadu government.

The SIT had named 41 accused in its charge sheet — including 12, who died in the blast and three who were absconding — before a TADA court in Chennai. The prolonged trial culminated in 1998 when the TADA court sentenced 26 of the accused to death.

In May 1999, the apex court had upheld the death sentence of four, including Murugan, Santham, Perarivalan, and Nalini commuted the death sentence of three to life and freed the remaining 19.

In April 2000, the Tamil Nadu Governor had commuted the death sentence of Nalini on the basis of state government's recommendation and an appeal by Rajiv Gandhi's wife and then Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

The death sentence of remaining three convicts was commuted in February 2014 by the apex court on the ground of inordinate delay of 11 years in deciding the mercy petitions.