More than three decades after he was imprisoned in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, life convict AG Perarivalan was set to walk free on Wednesday after the Supreme Court ordered his release.
The top court order to release Perarivalan comes after a long-winded legal battle. Besides lawyers and Tamil Nadu politicians fighting his cause, his septuagenarian mother Arputham Ammal has flown across the country to meet every leader possible to help in the release of her son.
Perarivalan was 19 when he was arrested for buying two 9-volt batteries, which were used in the bomb in the 1991 assassination. He has since said that he was unaware of the purpose for which he was buying the batteries, and has consistently maintained his innocence. Over the years, his release seemed imminent several times but always seemed to elude him.
However, the first step to him walking free came on March 9 this year, when the Supreme Court granted him bail – up to this point, he had only been out on parole, and was in fact on his third parole to undergo medical treatment for various illnesses he had developed when the bail order had come.
While in jail, Perarivalan completed a BCA and then an MCA and five certificate courses. He also wrote a book, 'Thooku kottatadiyiliruthu oru muraiyeetu madal' ('A letter from the gallows'), arguing the case for his innocence.
After observing in a previous hearing that Perarivalan's conduct in jail was good, and that he was being discriminated against under Article 14 of the Constitution (right to equality), a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai granted him bail.
Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991 in Tamil Nadu's Sriperumbudur by a woman suicide bomber belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). A total of 14 people were killed in the suicide bombing.
Though initially awarded the death penalty, Perarivalan's sentence was in February 2014 commuted to life in prison.
In October 2017, former CBI officer V Thiagarajan, who recorded Perarivalan's statement in 1991, told the Supreme Court that he had omitted the part of his statement where he said he was not aware of the purpose for which he bought the batteries.
KT Thomas, one of the Supreme Court judges who was part of the bench that sentenced Perarivalan among others to death – wrote a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi – Rajiv Gandhi's widow -- noting that the CBI's investigation had several flaws.
Perarivalan's release, along with that of six other convicts in the case, has been a major electoral and emotive issue which has dominated Tamil Nadu politics for three decades. While the majority of public sentiment has been sympathetic towards the release of the convicts, the families of those who lost their lives in the bomb blast have been against their release.
In 2018, the Tamil Nadu cabinet unanimously passed a resolution for the release of all seven convicts and sent it to then Governor Banwarilal Purohit. But after three years, the governor declined to take a decision and forwarded it to the President of India, stating that the latter was the right authority to take the decision.
Here's a look at the chronology of events in the case:
May 21, 1991: Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a suicide bomber (Dhanu/Thenmozhi Rajarathinam) belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Gandhi was scheduled to address a rally there. Sixteen people, including Gandhi and Dhanu, were killed in the blast, while around 45 persons were critically injured.
June, 1991: AG Perarivalan, alias Arivu, was then 19-years-old and arrested for his involvement in the case.
August, 1991: Perarivalan was accused of buying two nine volt batteries for Sivarasan of LTTE, who masterminded the assassination. The batteries were used in the bomb that killed Gandhi. The CBI registered a case against him and several others under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).
January, 1998: A trial court ordered death penalty for Perarivalan and 25 others.
May, 1999: Supreme Court acquitted 19 persons in the case. The death sentence awarded to the four of the seven accused — Perarivalan Nalini, Murugan alias Sriharan, Santhan — was upheld and the sentence for the other three — Ravichandran, Robert Payas and Jayakumar — was commuted to life sentence.
2011: An execution date was fixed. Perarivalan and a few others filed a writ petition, seeking a stay on the execution. Ram Jethmalani and Colin Gonsalves appeared for them. A stay was granted.
February, 2014: Supreme Court commuted his death penalty to life imprisonment.
December, 2015: Perarivalan submitted a mercy petition to the Tamil Nadu Governor, seeking release under Article 161 of the Constitution. In the absence of any action, his mother moved a plea on his behalf in the Supreme Court.
March, 2016: The Tamil Nadu government sent a proposal to the union government seeking remission of the life sentences of the seven convicts including Perarivalan in the case. Meanwhile, Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blast case, was released. Perarivalan filed an RTI application to Pune's Yerawada jail administration asking on what grounds Sanjay Dutt was prematurely released. He received no response.
August, 2017: He was released on parole for the first time to meet his ailing father. Perarivalan was 45-years-old at the time.
November, 2017: Former CBI officer V Thiagarajan, who interrogated Perarivalan, told the Supreme Court it was omitted in the confession that Perarivalan had no idea of the purpose for which the two batteries he bought would be used.
April, 2018: The Union government rejected Tamil Nadu government's 2016-remission proposal.
September, 2018: Political parties in Tamil Nadu unanimously adopted a resolution for releasing all seven convicts.
November, 2020: The Madras High Court extended the 30-day parole granted to AG Perarivalan by two weeks from November 9.
January, 2021: The Supreme Court granted a week's time for the Tamil Nadu Governor to decide on the state government's 2018 recommendation to release the seven convicts.
February, 2021: The Union government told the Supreme Court that the TN Governor had on January 25 communicated to the Centre that the President is the appropriate competent authority to deal with the remission of the sentence.
May, 2021: DMK forms the government in Tamil Nadu and chief minister MK Stalin writes to the President for their early release. Stalin grants a month's parole for Perarivalan on medical grounds, which was later extended.
December, 2021: Supreme Court said it is not keen on granting any further adjournments on Perarivalan's plea.
March, 2022: Supreme court grants bail to Perarivalan.
May 18, 2022: SC orders the release of Perarivalan.