When Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, were in the death row after being convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, I met them in the high-security Vellore prison and had an hour-long interview. Chatting over biscuits and tea kindly provided by the jail staff in an ante-room of the visitors section, they looked remarkably composed. The three struck a conciliatory tone, and said (in the year 2011, 20 years after the Sriperumbudur assassination), that taking Rajiv Gandhi’s life was wrong. In fact, taking anyone’s life was wrong.
Vellore, October 12, 2011: Two members of the militant organization, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Santhan and Murugan @ V Sriharan, who are in the death row on charges of conspiracy in the 1991 assassination case, feel differently about former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi and the blast at Sriperumbudur now.
“Everyone knows that we had nothing to do with the assassination. Of course, at that time we had a certain opinion because of the activities of the IPKF in Sri Lanka.” – Santhan
Santhan and Murugan, inmates of the Vellore central prison, said in an interview to me in October 2011 that as members of the LTTE and as disciplined cadres, they had a particular view of the assassination then. Murugan said, “We were earlier told of the activities of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. We were given a certain account of Rajiv Gandhi. Even then, we had nothing to do with the assassination. But today even more so, we feel he should not have been killed.”
“In fact, I believe no one should be killed. That is why, I am against death penalty,” Murugan added.
Santhan says, “Everyone knows that we had nothing to do with the assassination. Of course, at that time we had a certain opinion because of the activities of the IPKF in Sri Lanka. But with passage of time and as the years rolled by, I changed my opinion and I was convinced that Rajiv Gandhi should not have been killed.”
He added, “I truly believe that no human being should take any one’s life away. That applies to everybody. The movement against death penalty should be global. Death penalty should be done away with.”
Perarivalan said, “I too had nothing to do with the assassination. I do believe that taking anyone’s life is wrong, whether it is Rajiv Gandhi or any one else. The movement against death penalty is important. It should not be allowed anywhere in the world.”
Asked if the demand would be consistent, and they would seek clemency even if Sri Lankan President Rajapakse was awarded the death sentence by any international court for war crimes, Perarivalan said, “Yes, we should have the courage and the conviction to say even Rajapakse should not be hanged. It may be difficult to explain to some people but everyone should realize that our demand is for all and not just for us or some others.”
“I am not here to seek mercy for myself. I want justice for all,” adds Perarivalan.
Murugan pointed out, “We are not worried about our own deaths though we believe we are innocent and should not be punished. After all, we were part of the LTTE and would have died elsewhere in some operation or in the war of 2009. So, our own individual position is not the issue. We are concerned that there should be no death penalty anywhere in the world.”