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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