AG Perarivalan, the man convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, is not innocent, the Congress said on Wednesday hours after the Supreme Court ordered his release.
“We do not wish to criticise the judgement of the Supreme Court,” Tamil Nadu Congress Committee chief KS Alagiri said in a tweet. “At the same time, we want to emphasise that the perpetrators are murderers and that they are not innocent.”
Alagiri said that the Supreme Court itself had convicted seven persons for killing the former prime minister but has now released Perarivalan “on some legal grounds”.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and AS Bopanna on Wednesday ordered Perarivalan to be released after noting that then Tamil Nadu governor had delayed the decision to remit his sentence.
Perarivalan, who has been in prison for over 30 years, had approached the court questioning the delay in his release despite the Tamil Nadu government’s recommendation to remit his sentence in 2018.
Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that the party was “deeply saddened” by the Supreme Court’s verdict.
Surjewala also claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s silence led to Perarivalan’s release.
The spokesperson said that the BJP-All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government had recommended Banwari Lal Purohit, who was then the state governor, to remit Perarivalan’s sentence.
However, Surjewala said that Purohit neither accepted or rejected the recommendation. He instead sent the pardon plea to President Ram Nath Kovind, who also did not take a decision on the matter.
“Today, SC [Supreme Court] said that because the governor of Tamil Nadu didn’t take a call to accept or reject the recommendation, the court has released one of them,” the Congress leader said.
The spokesperson asked if those found guilty of assassinating the former prime minister are released, then “who will uphold the majesty and the integrity of the law in this country”.
“PM Shri Narendra Modi and his government needs to answer today,” Surjewala added. “Is this your duplicity and double speak on terrorism? Are you going to be complicit in the release of terrorists and murderers of a former PM of this country through your silence?”
BJP, Tamil Nadu parties welcome order
While the Congress has expressed dissatisfaction about the court’s decision, many Tamil Nadu parties as well as the BJP have welcomed the order.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin congratulated Perarivalan on his release. He also termed the Supreme Court’s verdict as historic.
“The order will be remembered in history not just for an individual named Perarivalan, but for establishing the federal philosophy and autonomy of the state,” the chief minister told reporters.
BJP’s Tamil Nadu president K Annamalai said that his party accepts the verdict. “We also hope that the Supreme Court will not allow us to compromise our unity, security and integrity,” he added.
Dravidar Kazhagam chief K Veeramani said that the verdict was an important and memorable one in view of human rights, reported The Hindu. Veeramani said the ruling reminds governors that they need to function in accordance to the provisions of the Constitution.
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi chief Thol Thirumavalavan said that the injustice done to Perarivalan for 30 years has been defeated.
“What punishment would be given to those responsible for the injustice and what is the Union government going to do for his rehabilitation?” he asked.
Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam president Vijayakant and Makkal Needhi Maiam president Kamal Haasan were among those who welcomed Perarivalan’s release.
Rajiv Gandhi’s assisination
Gandhi was killed on May 21, 1991, at an election rally at the Sriperumbudur town of Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber identified as Dhanu.
Perarivalan, who was 19 at the time, was convicted for purchasing a battery that was used by the assassins to trigger the bomb. He had claimed that his confession was taken under duress.
V Thiagarajan, a former Central Bureau of Investigation official, who had taken Perarivalan’s confessions had accepted that he had altered his statement to qualify as a confession. He had agreed that Perarivalan had no information regarding the use of the battery.
In 1999, 26 persons were sentenced to death for planning the assassination. But later that year, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of only four of them – Perarivalan, Nalini Sriharan, her husband Murugan and Santhan. Three others were sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining 19 were freed.
In April 2000, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Perarivalan, Santhan and Murugan’s death sentences were also commuted to life imprisonment in February 2014.
In February last year, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had said that he forgives the people responsible for killing Rajiv Gandhi, his father.
“I don’t have anger towards anybody,” the Congress leader had said. “Of course, I lost my father and for me it was a difficult time. It’s like someone has cut your heart out. I felt tremendous pain. But I don’t feel angry. I don’t feel any hatred. I forgive.”