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The Supreme Court judgment to release all the six convicts in former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case has brought into focus the role of Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi at a time when the DMK and its alliance parties are up in arms against his ‘autocratic and undemocratic functioning’.
Immediately after the Rajiv case verdict, Chief Minister M K Stalin criticized the Governor saying “the resolutions passed by the elected governments should not be kept in abeyance by nominated Governors. The DMK government had put forth arguments to establish the rights of the State government. The Supreme Court had upheld its stand”, he pointed out.
MDMK leader Vaiko too lashed out at the Governor and said the two Governors Banwarilal Purohit and R N Ravi had enacted a drama on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case issue as if they were seeking the opinion of the Centre when no such action was needed. CPI (M) in a strong statement said the verdict is a lesson to the Governor and the Union government. Going a step further Dravidar Kazhgam president K Veeramani asked if the Governor would resign for his ‘legal blunder’ on the issue. He also advised the Governor to act according to the Constitution at least after this judgment.
The reactions are understandable since the release of the convicts is a result of a two-decade tussle between the elected government in Tamil Nadu and the Governor nominated by the Union government. In 1999, when Fatima Beevi was the Governor, she turned down the clemency petitions of four convicts Nalini, Murugan, Perarivalan and Santhan without consulting the State government headed by M Karunanidhi.
The Madras High Court quashed the Governor’s order accepting the convicts’ plea that Governor could not pass without the advice of the State government, in a first victory for the government against the Governor, in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
After 14 years, the AIADMK government of J Jayalalithaa ordered the commutation of death sentence for all the convicts. This was opposed by the United Progressive Alliance government headed by the Congress, despite DMK being one of the constituents sharing power at the Centre. In this case, the Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice P Sathasivam which ordered commutation of death sentence for all the convicts into imprisonment stated that any petition by the convicts for remission could be considered by the State government.
In 2018, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s cabinet recommended remission for all the convicts under Article 161. But, Governor Banwarilal Purohit did not take any decision on the matter of releasing the Rajiv case convicts. Finally, a case was filed by Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the Supreme Court seeking release from prison.
In 2018, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s cabinet recommended remission for all the convicts under Article 161. But, Governor Banwarilal Purohit did not take any decision on the matter
After Governor RN Ravi took over, he also followed the footsteps of his predecessor in not taking any action to release the convicts. After Chief Minister MK Stalin assumed charge last year, his government strongly defended the decision of the earlier AIADMK government and argued that State government is the competent authority to take decision on the pleas for release under Article 161 which comes under the domain of the State government.
In the first indictment of the Governor’s stand, the Supreme Court Bench comprising Justice L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and AS Bopanna in May this year ordered the release of one of the convicts, Perarivalan. It strongly disapproved the action of Governor Banwarilal Purohit sending the recommendation of the State cabinet to the President to remit his sentence.
The Bench said “No provision under the Constitution has been pointed out to us nor any satisfactory response tendered as to the source of Governor’s power to refer a recommendation made by the State Cabinet to the President of India. In a strong indictment, the court said “The Governor’s action is contrary to the Constitutional scheme”.
The second court order overruling the Governor’s stand on the issue is seen as a victory for the DMK and its alliance who have presented a petition to the President seeking recall of the Governor
Now, the Supreme Court Bench, comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice BV Nagarathna has accepted the State government’s stand on the Rajiv case convicts issue and invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to release all the six convicts. The second court order overruling the Governor’s stand on the issue is seen as a victory for the DMK and its alliance who have presented a petition to the President seeking recall of the Governor.
Already, the DMK and its allies have sent a petition to the President seeking the removal of Governor RN Ravi saying that “the Governor who is nominee of Union Government and an unelected figure opposing a popularly elected State Government ideologically and functionally, is a perversion of the Constitutional set up and a death knell to democracy”.
It also said “the Legislature is being obturated by the office of the Governor by openly contradicting its policy in public and unduly delaying assent to Bills. The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly has enacted several important Bills and the Governor is unduly delaying assent to the Bills passed by the State Legislature. This amounts to interference in the administration of the State and transaction of business by the Legislature”. Now, the Supreme Court judgment too comes as a vindication of the Tamil Nadu government’s stand against the Governor and brings the Governor’s role under the scanner again.
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