Rajiv Gandhi Assassination To Release Of Convicts After 30 Years: A Timeline Of Events

Earlier in November, the Supreme Court permitted the premature release of the remaining convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The Congress has since sought a review of the apex court's decision.

Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts

The Supreme Court on November 11 directed the premature release of the remaining six convicts, including Nalini Sriharan and R P Ravichandran, in the high-profile Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The former prime minister was assassinated by a woman suicide bomber named Dhanu at a poll rally in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on the night of May 21, 1991. The blast killed at least 14 other people and over 40 were left injured.

The convicts in custody were Nalini Sriharan, Robert Pais, Ravichandran, Suthenthira Raja, Shriharan alias Murugan and Jaikumar. Their release earlier this month has led to a political slugfest in the country with Congress seeking an official review of the apex court's decision. 

Senior party leader and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi told media last Monday that though the party was yet to decide on the modalities, whether to intervene in the Central government's review application or intervene otherwise. But the party in principle is seeking to file a review petition. 

The Centre too moved the Supreme Court seeking a review of its order for premature release of the six convicts. The Centre said the order granting remission to the convicts was passed without affording it adequate opportunity for hearing despite it being a necessary party to the case. The government highlighted the alleged procedural lapse, saying the convicts seeking remission did not formally implead the Centre as a party which resulted in its non-participation in the case.

Who were the killers serving prison sentences?

Seven people were arrested for facilitating the assassination of Gandhi. These included Murugan alias Sriharan, an LTTE operative from Sri Lanka, his wife Nalini who was an Indian citizen and a stenographer at the time she met Murugan, Sri Lankan nationals Robert Pious, his brother-in-law Jayakumar and Ravichandran, along with Indian citizen AG Perarivalan who was charged with supplying a 9-volt battery for the explosive device.

The convicts had each served nearly three decades in prison as part of their sentence. Sonia Gandhi had pardoned Nalini and even filed a clemency petition in the year 2000 that led to the reduction of her sentence.

Following is a timeline of events:

May 21, 1991: Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at a poll rally in Tamil Nadu's Sriperumbudur by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Dhanu.

May 24, 1991: Probe handed over to Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)

June 11, 1991: CBI arrests A G Perarivalan (19), books him under Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).

January 28, 1998: TADA court sentences 26 accused, including Perarivalan, to death.

May 11, 1999: Supreme Court upholds Perarivalan's conviction and sentence.

October 8, 1999: Supreme Court dismisses Perarivalan's review petition

April 2000: Tamil Nadu governor commutes death sentence of Nalini Sriharan on state government's recommendation and an appeal from former Congress president and Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia Gandhi.

August 12, 2011: Perarivalan files mercy petition before President under Article 72 of the Constitution, which is rejected. Aggrieved thereby, Perarivalan files writ petition in Madras High Court.

May 1, 2012: High court transfers the case to Supreme Court.

February 18, 2014: Supreme Court commutes Perarivalan's death sentence to life imprisonment, along with that of two other prisoners -- Santhan and Murugan -- on grounds of 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas by Centre.

December 30, 2015: Perarivalan files petition under Article 161 of the Constitution for remission of his sentence.

September 9, 2018: Tamil Nadu cabinet passes resolution recommending Perarivalan's release, sends it to governor.

January 25, 2021: Tamil Nadu governor forwards petition filed by Perarivalan under Article 161, along with recommendation made by Tamil Nadu cabinet, to president.

March 9, 2022: Supreme Court releases Perarivalan on bail, taking into account that he had spent more than 31 years in jail.

May 18, 2022: Supreme Court orders Perarivalan's release, invoking its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution.

August 12, 2022: Nalini Sriharan and Ravichandran move Supreme Court seeking premature release.

September 26, 2022: Supreme Court issues notices to Centre, Tamil Nadu government on plea of Nalini Sriharan and Ravichandran seeking premature release.

Nov 11, 2022: SC directs premature release of the six remaining convicts in the case, including Nalini Sriharan and Ravichandran, noting that the Tamil Nadu government has recommended remission of sentence to them.

(With inputs from PTI)