Perarivalan case: Walk to freedom is not acquittal

India’s beloved leader, former PM Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21,1991 at Sriperumbudur, which happens to be birthplace of Saint Ramanujacharya, who gave Visishtadvaita philosophy to the world

Rajiv Gandhi
Rajiv Gandhi

Nishant Mandal

India’s beloved leader and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur, which also happens to be the birth place of Saint Ramanujacharya, who gave the Visishtadvaita philosophy to the world.

At the site of the blast which claimed his life, a memorial site was raised with seven massive granite pillars. These pillars represent seven concepts namely, Dharma, Satya, Nyaya, Vigyan, Tyaga, Shanti and Samiridhi.

These pillars also represent seven sacred rivers of our country namely Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Brahamputra, Narmada, Sindhu & Kaveri. Indeed, Rajiv Gandhi was a man of vision and great dreams and he truly had the qualities which now come to be represented by these seven pillars for eternity.

Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on 18th May 2022, 3 days short of 31 years since the tragic date, ordered the release of A G Perarivalan, one of the co-accused in murder of the former PM. A G Perarivalan was sentenced to death by designated TADA Court in Chennai where the trial was conducted. This conviction was upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court as well.

The ensuing review petition before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, mercy petition before the Governor of Tamil Nadu and the mercy petition filed before the President of India, all came to be dismissed one by one. The perpetrators of this most heinous crime perhaps wanted to show their prowess and might by silencing the former PM of a nation.

This was nothing but an insult to the nation and a crime against the nation. If it was not akin to waging a war against India by symbolically killing a former and popular PM, what else was it is one’s quest. No institution wanted to grant him any mercy, neither the law nor the human.

Subsequently, when a writ petition filed at Madras High Court was transferred to the Apex court of the land, the death sentence of A G Perarivalan was commuted to imprisonment for life on February 18, 2014.

Thereafter, given the sensitivities and sentiments of people in Tamil Nadu, the state of Tamil Nadu proposed remission of the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on A G Perarivalan in view of 23 years of incarceration undergone by then.

With all legal exercises in between, come 2018, where a resolution was passed by the Tamil Nadu Cabinet on 9th September 2018, recommending the release of A G Perarivalan, which was sent to the Governor of Tamil Nadu for a decision.

The Governor sent the same for consideration of the President of India, the constitutionality of the same act became the core issue of determination before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

The Apex Court decided that such an act was not within the ambit of Governor’s powers. While releasing A G Perarivalan, the Apex Court considered that he has already undergone incarceration for 32 years, out of which he has spent 16 years on the death row and 29 years in solitary confinement, that his conduct in jail and while out on parole twice has been without any complaint, that he is suffering from chronic ailments and that he has completed his +2 exams, an undergraduate degree, a postgraduate degree, a diploma and eight certification courses.

While also considering that his petition under Article 161 remained pending for two and a half years following the recommendation of the state Cabinet for remission of his sentence, Hon’ble Supreme Court invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and suggesting that the accused A G Perarivalan being deemed to have served the sentence in connection with the crime of killing of the former Prime Minister, be set at liberty.

It must be appreciated that this release of A G Perarivalan is putting him on liberty as he is deemed to have served the sentence for the crime committed by him. It is not acquittal of him. It simply means that he was an accused, his charges were proved, he was convicted and that having served his sentence for the said crime, he is being set at liberty.

With his release, though there is ample pain and fury among the members of Congress party, they must appreciate that showing a magnanimity of heart, it was Smt Sonia Gandhi who had appealed to help commute Nalini's (one of the co-accused) death sentence to that of life imprisonment upon the birth of her child in prison. Further, it was a meeting between Smt Priyanka Gandhi with Nalini in prison which was also appreciated by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Thiru M Karunanidhi. Also, Shri Rahul Gandhi has suggested that killing of his father caused him tremendous pain but he nursed no anger or hatred towards those responsible for it.

Indeed, why it has taken so long for the institutions to take timely and adequate action in matters related to death row convicts and their subsequent appeals is the larger question and delving deep into it only highlights the state of affairs of the ‘system’ in the country. However, it must not be forgotten that along with the former PM, the police constables, the local Tamil people and a child who sang a poem there also died in the blast and that all their sacrifices stand tall and in full glory as seven values of Dharma, Satya, Nyaya, Vigyan, Tyaga, Shanti and Samiridhi (translated in English as Rule of law, Truth, Justice, Science, Sacrifice, Peace and Prosperity) atop the seven pillars at Sriperumbudur.

In the land of Gandhi and Buddha, eye for an eye cannot be our guide. The instant Supreme Court order is also an occasion to reiterate that in law, every life and everyone’s liberty is precious, equally applicable to both - a former Prime Minister and to an accused who has already undergone his sentence. However, in society, if it is a moment of celebration for few, it is also a moment of sorrow and pain for many. Let the seven pillars of Sriperumbudur shine.

(Nishant Mandal is a dually qualified professional as engineer and advocate, who is currently practising law before Hon’ble Courts in India, based in New Delhi. He can be reached at

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