25 November, 2022 |

Current Affairs

Supreme Court releases six convicts in Rajiv Gandhi case

Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the release of six convicts implicated in the 1991 suicide bombing and assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This comes a few months after the Court ordered the release of another convict in the case, AG Perarivalan, due to his poor health. A look at the events leading up to the order and what implications it could have:

The assassination On 21st May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi and several others were killed by a suicide bomber while at a political rally in Sriperudumbur, Tamil Nadu. According to eyewitness reports, Gandhi had left his car and was walking to the dais to deliver a campaign speech. On the way, he greeted and accepted garlands and gifts from several well-wishers, including the assassin Kalaivani Rajaratnam. She detonated an explosive belt hidden below her dress at Gandhi’s feet, causing an explosion that left 18 dead and 43 injured.

Investigation The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which formed a special investigation team under D.R. Karthikeyan to uncover the perpetrators of the assassination. The resultant report indicted the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), a Sri Lankan Tamil separatist organisation. According to the Supreme Court, the assassination was prompted by the statement that if he returned to power as PM, he would reinstate the IPKF (Indian Peacekeeping Forces, a military brigade that intervened in the Sri Lankan Civil War) to eradicate the LTTE. Logistical support and planning of the assassination were also undertaken by Dr Jagjit Singh Chohan, founder of the Sikh separatist Khalistan movement.

Trial and sentencing In the aftermath of the assassination, all suspects were tried under the now-defunct Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA); the court then convicted and sentenced all 26 of them to death. However, in 1999, a few years after the repealing of the TADA, the Supreme Court upheld only seven convictions- sentencing 4 to death and 3 to life in prison. The death sentences were all later commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court in 2014.

Takeaways In 2016, the Tamil Nadu State government recommended the remission (shortening of prison sentence) of the convicts, citing good behaviour and satisfactory conduct for almost three decades in prison. However, the state’s Governor did not move to implement the suggestion, leaving the convicts imprisoned.

Recently, however, the Supreme Court invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, which allows the court to dispense any verdict it sees fit to achieve maximum justice. This verdict stated that all convicts be released since none were part of the core conspirators of the assassination, and the crime could not be considered a terrorist attack because there was no intention to harm any other than Rajiv Gandhi.

According to the law, the convicts are now free to choose where they may go next. 4 of the 7, who are Sri Lankan nationals, will be returned to their home country. However, only one of them, Santhan, wishes to do so. The Indian government may grant the other convicts exit permits to live in their countries of choice. However, under international law, they are also eligible to claim refugee status and consequently remain in the country seeking asylum.

However, the order of the Supreme Court has been opposed by the Union Government, which recently filed a petition seeking a review of the decision. The Union sees the release of the perpetrators of such a “gruesome offence” as a gross miscarriage of justice.

Although the Supreme Court’s order is final, the convicts and their families will watch with bated breath the outcome of the government’s petition, which could be the difference between pardon and prison.

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Picture Credits -The Bridge

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