Chennai, Feb 18: With the Supreme Court Tuesday commuting the death sentence awarded to three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, political parties DMK, MDMK and CPI along with the convicts’ relatives demanded their release from prison.
The three convicts – V. Sriharan alias Murugan, A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu and T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan – were charged with criminal conspiracy that led to the killing of Rajiv Gandhi.
The apex court Tuesday commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment, holding that the 11-year delay in deciding their mercy petitions had a dehumanising effect on them.
Elated at the news, Perarivalan’s mother Arputhammal told the media here that she was happy at the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I hope the Tamil Nadu chief minister would help in my son’s release. I thank all the human rights organisations, political parties, media and others who supported us,” she said.
The death sentence to fourth convict Nalini, who is married to Murugan and who became a mother in prison, was commuted to life imprisonment after her mercy petition was accepted. The petition had the recommendation of Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi.
The state government has, however, opposed Nalini’s bail application.
Nalini’s mother Padmavathy met her at the Vellore jail, around 100 km from here, and, while thanking the apex court chief justice for his ruling, appealed to Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa to release the convicts.
Murugan’s mother Somani also met her son in Vellore. She thanked the media and others for their support.
Expressing happiness at the Supreme Court’s decision, DMK president M. Karunanidhi urged the central and state governments to release the convicts from jail.
He said there were procedures and precedents on the release of life convicts which the central and state governments can follow.
MDMK leader Vaiko said the judgment should be etched in golden letters in India’s judicial history. He also urged the state government to release the convicts.
Communist Party of India’s Tamil Nadu secretary D. Pandian also urged the state government to release the convicts as they have spent more than two decades behind bars.
Rajiv Gandhi, who was the prime minister 1984-89, was killed by suicide bomber Dhanu at an election rally in Sriperumbudur near Chennai May 21, 1991. Fourteen other people also lost their lives in the blast.
In 1998, all the 26 accused in the case – including the three – were sentenced to death by a special trial court.
In 1999, the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentences of four – Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan and Nalini, an Indian woman who assisted them. The capital punishment of the others was reduced to varying terms of imprisonment.
Soon after the confirmation of their sentences, they made a mercy plea to the president but it was rejected Aug 11, 2011.