The Tamil Nadu Cabinet on Sunday passed a resolution recommending Governor Banwarilal Purohit to order the release of seven convicts in the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, in a politically significant move.
The Cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, asked Purohit to order the release of the seven convicts under Article 161 of the Constitution. The Cabinet move comes three days after the Supreme Court, in a petition filed by one of the convicts, A G Perarivalan, seeking premature release, said, “Naturally, the authority concerned will be at liberty to decide the said application deemed as fit.”
“The Tamil Nadu Cabinet has decided to recommend Governor Banwarilal Purohit to release all seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case who are undergoing life imprisonment. The Cabinet has asked the governor to decide on their premature release under Article 161 of the Constitution,” Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.
The Tamil Nadu government was under tremendous pressure to take a decision on the release of the seven convicts — Nalini, Murugan, Santhan, A G Perarivalan, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran — since the Supreme Court’s verdict on Thursday. Almost every political party, except the Congress and the BJP, support the release of the seven convicts.
“It is immediate. You can understand the urgency of the issue as the Cabinet met on a Sunday and took the decision. The resolution of the Cabinet will be sent to the governor immediately,” Jayakumar said, adding that the governor was bound to go by the advice of the Council of Ministers.
The going for the seven convicts may not be as smooth as the Tamil Nadu governments think, since the governor is not time-bound to act on the recommendation of the Cabinet and is at liberty to consult the Union government.
The premature release of the seven convicts has been a thorn in the relations between Tamil Nadu and the Central governments for almost a decade.
After the Supreme Court in 2014 decided to commute the death sentence of six people including Murugan, the then Tamil Nadu government headed by J Jayalalithaa had decided to release all the six and Nalini. However, the Union government knocked at the doors of the Supreme Court pleading that the state government cannot decide on the case since it was investigated by CBI, a central agency.
The Centre has been maintaining that release of the seven convicts will set a “dangerous precedent” and have “international ramifications” since the case involved the assassination of former prime minister in a brutal manner in pursuance of a “diabolical” plot conceived and executed by foreign terrorist organisation.