It has been four years since former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa announced in the state assembly that her government will ensure the release of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case irrespective of the Centre's decision in the matter. While her statement received cheers from members of the ruling cabinet in 2014, there was no change in the fate of the seven prisoners who continue to remain behind bars.
But now, with the Supreme Court on Thursday asking Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit to consider the mercy plea of one of the convicts AG Perarivalan, the state has the chance to act upon its previous promise. Highly placed sources in the government have told TNM that they plan to use this opportunity.
"A cabinet meeting is being called on Sunday to discuss the release of the convicts serving life imprisonment in the assassination case," a minister confirmed to TNM. "Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami will be leading the meeting," he added.
Law Minister CV Shanmugam meanwhile maintained that the government stands by the late CM's wish to release all seven convicts.
On Thursday, a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Naveen Sinha and KM Joseph also disposed of the Centre's petition regarding a proposal for release of the convicts, filed by the state government. The Centre on August 10 had told the Supreme Court that it will not agree to the release of the prisoners. It maintained that remission of their sentence will set a 'dangerous precedent' and have 'international ramifications'.
The Apex court had earlier asked the Centre to take a decision on a 2016 letter of the Tamil Nadu government seeking its concurrence on release of the convicts. Months before the former chief ministerâ€™s Jayalalithaaâ€™s demise, her chief secretary K Gnanadesikan was directed to write to the BJP government informing that the state was ready to release the convicts - Murugan, Santhan, Robert Payas, Nalini, Ravichandran and Perarivalan.
On August 20 this year, 47-year old Perarivalan told the apex court that no decision has been taken as yet on his mercy petition filed before the Governor.
He was convicted at the age of 19 and had filed a mercy petition in 2015 to the then Governor under Article 161 of the constitution. It gives the constitutional head the power to pardon an offence or suspend the sentence of a convicted individual.
He was charged with supplying the battery which was allegedly used for the belt bomb that had killed Rajiv Gandhi and 14 others. The former CBI officer who had taken down his confession earlier told TNM that Perarivalan had stated that he was not aware of the purpose of the battery but that he omitted this part in the statement he submitted.
In addition to this, his counsel has pointed out multiple times in court that the investigation regarding the bomb itself was still pending.
"The Supreme Court after listening to our arguments and taking into view Article 161, ordered for the Governor to consider the plea," says K Sivakumar, one of Perarivalan's lawyers. "We are now hearing that the cabinet is also convening to discuss the release of the prisoners. So we are confident that this will end on a positive note," he adds.