AG Perarivalan and the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case: What you need to know

After spending 31 years in jail, AG Perarivalan was released by the Supreme Court on May 18. We take a look at the how the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case unfolded in the last three decades.

 |  4-minute read |   20-05-2022
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday (May 18) ordered the release of AG Perarivalan, one of the life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Perarivalan, who is 50 now, has spent 31 years in jail and was released on the plea of the Tamil Nadu government.

The top court had refused to agree with the Centre's suggestion that the court should wait till the President decides on the issue. SC had earlier granted him bail in March while taking note of his long incarceration and no history of complaints when out on parole.

Perarivalan was accused of buying the two 9-volt batteries used in the bomb to assassinate the former prime minister in 1991. Perarivalan was 19 years old at that time. 

Seven years later, he was sentenced to death by a Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court in 1998. The SC upheld the sentence in 1999 but changed it to life imprisonment in 2014, reported the Indian Express.

We take a look at who Perarivalan is, how he was convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, and what led to his release.




  • Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber, identified as Thenmozhi Rajarathinam (Dhanu), at a poll rally. Sixteen persons including Gandhi and Dhanu were killed in the blast and around 45 were critically injured.

rg_052022013958.jpgDhanu (circled), moments before Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in Sriperumbudur. (India Today file photo)

  • Dhanu was a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) member. She detonated the explosive-laden belt under her vest as she bent down to touch Rajiv Gandhi’s feet.
  • Determined to prevent Gandhi from returning to power fearing the reinduction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), the LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran had ordered the killing of Rajiv at a meeting held in Sri Lanka's Jaffna in October 1990, reported India Today.
  • Re-induction of the IPKF would have led to crackdown on the LTTE network in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. Gandhi had sent IPKF to Sri Lanka in 1987.

prk_052022014158.jpgLTTE supremo Prabhakaran. (India Today file photo)


  • Three days after Gandhi's assassination, the investigation was handed over to a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), on May 24, 1991. 
  • On June 11, CBI arrested Perarivalan for helping Sivarasan, one of the masterminds of the assassination, procure two 9-volt batteries that were used in the explosive-laden belt that Dhanu wore around her stomach, reported Deccan Herald.
  • Seven years later, in 1998, a TADA court awarded death sentence to all 26 accused, including Perarivalan. A year later, SC upheld the conviction and sentence imposed on Perarivalan.
  • Here on a legal battle began, which led to many mercy petitions and at times, clashes between the Centre and state governments.


  • "I bought two 9-volt battery cells and gave them to Sivarasan. He used only these to make the bomb explode," said Perarivalan’s confession statement taken under Section 15(1) of TADA.
  • The Indian Express reported that the TADA court’s verdict showed the confession was used to establish his knowledge and role in the assassination. However, in his pleas before the Tamil Nadu Governor, the President and the courts, Perarivalan claimed innocence.

  • Giving legitimacy to Perarivalan’s claims, a 1981-batch IPS officer named V Thiagarajan revealed in 2013 that he had altered the statement that was taken from Perarivalan while he was in custody under TADA. 
  • Thiagarajan revealed that Perarivalan had indeed admitted to having purchased the batteries, but he did not know the purpose, reported the Indian Express.


  • The Supreme Court ordered the release of Perarivalan by invoking Article 142 of the Constitution. Article 142 grants the SC extraordinary powers for "doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it".

  • Justice L Nageswara Rao, who was heading the SC bench, said that Perarivalan was 19 years old when he was arrested in 1991 and he has already spent 31 years in jail, out of which 16 years were spent on death row and 29 years in solitary confinement, reported the Deccan Chronicle.
  • The others undergoing life term in the case are Murugan, Santhan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, Jayachandran and Nalini.


Vivek Mishra Vivek Mishra @vvk29

Vivek likes to follow politics, international affairs, sports and technology. He is currently an Assistant Editor at DailyO.

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