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Rajiv Gandhi assassination: Timeline of events and where are the convicts now?

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The release of A.G. Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, has turned the spotlight to the others convicted in the case.

Perarivalan, an Indian citizen who was 19 when Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE suicide bombers on May 21, 1991, was released by the Supreme Court on May 18.

Six other convicts who facilitated the assassination have been serving life imprisonment in India. They are Murugan alias Sriharan, Nalini Sriharan, T. Suthenthiraraja alias Santhan, Robert Pious, Jayakumar, who is the brother-in-law of Robert Pious, and Ravichandran. Apart from Nalini, all convicts are natives of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, Nalini and Murugan’s daughter was raised in prison for five years and later taken by a family of another prisoner to Coimbatore. She has migrated to the UK where she practises medicine. The two convicts have not met their daughter since she left prison, Indian Express reported quoting Nalini’s counsel M. Radhakrishnan. However, the family has been in touch through letters.

Here’s a timeline of events in the Rajiv Gandhi case and where these convicts are now:

May 21, 1991: Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi along with 16 others were killed by a suicide bomber (Dhanu/Thenmozhi Rajarathinam) from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at Sriperumbudur, 50 km from Chennai, at 10.20 pm. Gandhi was participating in an election rally in Sriperumbudur when Dhanu triggered a belt bomb that killed him. Seven accused were arrested. Nalini, wife of Murugan, was pregnant when she was arrested. She gave birth to a girl in jail.

1992: A special investigation team (SIT) under the CBI, investigating the case, confirmed the role of LTTE in the suicide bombing. Those arrested were booked under  the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).

1992: The SIT named 41 accused, including 12 dead and three absconding in the chargesheet.

1998: 26 accused, including Murugan, Santhan, AG Perarivalan and Nalini were sentenced to death by the TADA court in Poonamallee, on the outskirts of Chennai.

1999: The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by the four and upheld the death sentence. The top court gave life sentences to three others and acquitted 19 accused in the case. It also struck down the TADA provisions from the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Nalini, Murugan, Santhan, and Perarivalan filed for clemency to the Tamil Nadu Governor, but the plea was rejected.

2000: The Tamil Nadu Cabinet, under the leadership of M. Karunanidhi, recommended the governor to commute Nalini’s death sentence. Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life by the Tamil Nadu governor based on an appeal by Congress President and Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi.

2001: Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan appealed to the president of India for mercy.

2011: Their mercy plea was rejected by then president Pratibha Patil. The same year, the Madras High Court stayed the execution of the three death convicts who were to be hanged on September 9. Then Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha passed a resolution seeking to commute the death sentence.

2014: The Supreme Court commuted the death penalty on Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan to imprisonment for life.

2018: The Tamil Nadu Cabinet recommended the release of all seven convicts in the case.

2019: Nalini Sriharan got ordinary parole for the first time since her arrest in 1991. The parole lasted for a month and 20 days.

2021: Nalini Sriharan was granted another parole by the Tamil Nadu government on the request of her ailing mother. Ravichandran was also granted parole by the Madras High Court the same year for 15 days on a petition filed by his mother.

2022: Perarivalan, to be released, the Supreme Court ruled on May 18.

Until the COVID-19 restrictions were enforced, Nalini and Murugan were allowed to meet once in two weeks for about 15 minutes.

According to the report, Santhan takes care of rituals at a temple inside Vellore Central Prison. Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran continue to serve their sentence in prison.

(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)

First Published:  IST

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Rajiv Gandhi assassination case: A timeline of events

Rajiv Gandhi Assasination case

The Supreme Court Wednesday ordered the release of A G Perarivalan, one of the life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Perarivalan alias Arivu was 19-years-old when he was arrested on June 11, 1991. He was accused of having bought two 9-volt ‘Golden Power’ battery cells for Sivarasan, the LTTE man who masterminded the conspiracy. The batteries were used in the bomb that killed Rajiv Gandhi on May 21 that year.

Here is a timeline of the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination case

10.20pm, May 21, 1991: Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur. The female assassin who triggered the belt bomb, Dhanu, and 16 others killed.

22 May, 1991 : A CB-CID team was constituted to investigate the case.

24 May 1991 : On request of the state government, then under the Presidential rule, handed over the investigation to a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of CBI.

June 11, 1991 – CBI arrests 19 year old A G Perarivalan. He was booked under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) like others accused in the case.

20 May, 1992 : SIT chargesheeted 41 accused including 12 dead, three absconding, before a special TADA trial court in Chennai.

January 28, 1998 : After prolonged trial, TADA court sentenced 26 accused to death including Nalini and Perarivalan.

11 May 1999: The Supreme Court upholds the death sentence of four including Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, three others to life sentences and freed 19 other death convicts. The TADA provisions were also struck down from the case.

April 2000: Nalini’s death penalty was commuted to life by Tamil Nadu governor on the basis of a recommendation of the state cabinet, and a public appeal made by Sonia Gandhi.

 Three death convicts including Santhan, Murugan and perarivalan submitted their mercy pleas to the President of India.

 Perarivalan’s autobiography – ‘An Appeal from the Death Row’ – claimed on how he was implicated in the conspiracy by taking a confession under duress that he bought a battery to make the bomb.

August 11, 2011: The then President Pratibha Patil, after 11 years, rejected these petitions.

August, 2011:
As three death convicts were to be hanged on September 9, 2011, Madras HC stayed the execution orders. A resolution was also passed by the then Chief Minister, late J Jayalalithaa, seeking commutation of the death sentence.

February 24, 2013: Raising the issue of ‘double jeopardy,’ Justice K T Thomas, who headed the SC bench in 1999, said hanging them after 23 years would be unconstitutional. “This appears to be a third type of sentence, something which is unheard and constitutionally incorrect. If they are hanged today or tomorrow, they will be subjected to two penalties for one offense,” he said.

November 2013: Former CBI SP V Thiagarajan, who had taken the confession of Perarivalan in TADA custody, reveals that he altered it to qualify as a confession statement; he said Perarivalan never said he knew the battery he bought would be used to make the bomb.

January 21, 2014: SC commuted the death penalty of three Rajiv case convicts, along with 12 others including aides of forest brigand Veerappan, into imprisonment for life.

Perarivalan submits a mercy petition to the Tamil Nadu Governor seeking release under Article 161 of the Constitution. Later, he moved SC for having no reply from the Governor.

August, 2017: Tamil Nadu government grants parole to Perarivalan, the first parole after his arrest in 1991.

September 6, 2018: On Tamil Nadu governor’s inordinate delay, SC asserts that the Governor has the right to decide on the remission petition filed by Perarivalan.

September 9, 2018: Tamil Nadu Cabinet headed by the then CM Edappadi K Palaniswami recommends the release of all seven convicts.

January, 2021: As the Governor continues to sit on the cabinet recommendation, SC orders to take a decision, warns that the court will be forced to release them citing the inordinate delay. The Governor sends the files to the President despite it being a state cabinet recommendation.

May, 2021: Perarivalan comes out on parole. The new DMK government kept extending the parole.

March 09, 2022:
Supreme court grants bail to Perarivalan

May 11, 2022: Supreme Court concludes hearing in the case.

May 18 – Final Order