Rajiv Ratna Gandhi was a dominant political leader of his time who led the Indian National Congress (INC) after the sudden demise of his mother, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, in an assassination in 1984. Initially, he was out of politics until his brother Sanjay Gandhi died in 1980, he set his journey in his mother’s footprints. He was designated to the post of coveted 6th Prime Minister of India after winning the biggest margin of votes in a PM election ever, with 400+ Lok Sabha seats. He also became the youngest ever PM of India at age of 40.
During his tenure from 1984-89, people had high hopes for him. He was highly ambitious and wanted progressive developments in every sphere be it bureaucracy, education policies, expanding telecom sectors, science & technology, relations with the USA, etc. He had an image of an “honest man” in the nation and was popular among the masses until his alleged involvement in Bofor’s Scandal ruined the same. This led to his defeat in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections against V. P. Singh’s Janata Dal. The government led by V. P. Singh fell after his resignation in 1990. Like every other party, Rajiv Gandhi as INC’s President led his campaign for the 1991 elections. On the 21st of May 1991, he was campaigning in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. During the course of events, a girl by the name of Dhanu went to touch Rajiv’s feet and detonated the belt of bombs she was wearing, killing many including Rajiv, and leaving many gravely injured in the event. This planned massacre was devised by a terrorist militant organization in Sri Lanka, named LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), whose motive was to prevent Rajiv to get back into power by any means.
BACKGROUND OF EVENTS AND AFTERMATH
Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was formed in 1987 via Indo-Sri Lankan Accord as a means to prevent civil war between extremist organizations in Sri Lanka (including LTTE). During those days, Sri Lanka was undergoing an ideology of separatism wherein militant organizations strived to make a separate Tamil Eelam state in North-Eastern Sri Lanka for minority Hindu Tamils. Due to the intervention of IPKF, on orders of Rajiv Gandhi, groups like LTTE had to face hardships in accomplishing their objective and thus saw the Indian PM as a foreign threat. The mastermind of the plan was Sivarasan. They aimed to uproot any possibility of Rajiv’s comeback as Prime Minister, who could otherwise revive their old enemy IPKF back in action. They resorted to the plan of assassinating him as the only viable option at the time when he was not in power. The crowded campaigns for impending elections were their ideal spot to implement their operation. Perarivalan was only 19 during the execution of the plan in 1991. He was one of the main convicts who participated in the core roles. His task was procuring 2 9-volt batteries to mastermind Sivarasan which was meant to be used in a belt of bombs worn by preparator Dhanu. While the other six were involved in tasks like conspiracy, arranging materials, and preparing preparators. The celebrations of the success of conspirators couldn’t last long. They were caught allegedly for their fundamental role by CBI’s Special Investigation Team (SIT). All the accused were awarded the death penalty by TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities) Court in 1998, which was later commuted by the Supreme Court after years of pleas while many were released.
LEGAL BATTLE OF PERARIVALAN
Perarivalan’s capital punishment, sentenced by the TADA Court, was relegated to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court of India in 2014, after a decadal delay of hearing clemencies. In 1991, when he was booked in the case by CBI’s SIT team, he accepted his guilt but he also said that he was unaware of the application of the cells he was asked by Sivarasan. This statement was indeed considered as a 19-year-old mind is still in the developing stage and showed his naiveness as a growing adult. Eventually in 2014, then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa announced the remittance of the 7 convicts via Section 432 of CrPC, but the aid wasn’t received due to Supreme Court’s intervention.
Thus, Perarivalan had to resort to a mercy plea petition under Article 161 of the Indian Constitution to then the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Konijeti Rosaiah to pardon his imprisonment. This petition was rejected by then President, Ramnath Kovind in 2018 on compassionate grounds. In course of events, the petition was reconsidered in Tamil Nadu’s State Cabinet meeting and Governor was charged with standalone authority by Madras High Court to either reject or accept the plea in 2020. Sadly, the battle went on for 2 more years as responsibility was never undertaken by even the newly elected Governor, RN Ravi who insisted on forwarding matters to President. Finally, in 2022, SC invoked Article 142 over unhappiness with the Governor’s non-fulfilment of duties, and thus the long battle of 31 years ended with Perarivalan’s release.
ARTICLE 161 V. ARTICLE 142
Article 161 of the Constitution states that the Governor of the State shall have the power to grant remissions, pardons, respites, reprieves, suspension, or commute any offender within the scope of his/her State. This is in parallel to Article 72 which defines this power to the President of India.
On the other hand, Article 142 of the Indian Constitution confers extraordinary power to the Supreme Court to exercise jurisdiction over a significant pending case wholly by itself for doing justice over long pending cases. It has been invoked in past landmark cases like – “Prem Chand Garg v. Excise Commissioner, U.P., Allahabad (1962)”; “Union Carbide Corporation v. UOI (1991); etc.
In Perarivalan’s case, the Council of Ministers’ declaration to pardon him was binding to Governor for either rejecting or accepting it. But they insisted to shy away from the responsibility and sending the same to President was seen as against the Constitutional framework of India. The Governor was expected to grant him a pardon with the powers bestowed to him under Article 161. Thus, Supreme Court had to step in and adjudicate its decision after 4 years in 2022, granting freedom to Perarivalan from prison and giving him a fresh start to his life.
The remarkable step by Supreme Court to invoke Article 142 and free Perarivalan truly limelights the Supreme Court as the “Protector-Guardian of the Constitution” and how the third pillar of Democracy – the Judiciary showed that it is on an equal footing with its Legislative and Executive counterparts. A popular political figure like Rajiv Gandhi being assassinated in an overcrowded scenario is overwhelmingly horrific and denotes how clever and audacious the preparators were. The other side of the story shows how the masterminds behind the blueprint of the plan misused innocent children and adolescents for implementing the same plan as Perarivalan and Dhanu. Dhanu sacrificed her life while young Perarivalan had to pay it with seeming life imprisonment along with a defamed life. Perarivalan spent three important decades of his life over a mistake that he committed due to a lack of awareness of the actual plot. This landmark step of the Supreme Court can be also seen as a ray of hope for the other 6 convicts – Nalini, Murugan, Santhan, Ravichandran, Robert, and Jayakumar – to be set free from their life imprisonment.
Author(s) Name: Shub Kartik Goenka