Chennai: Retired justice of the Supreme Court, K T Thomas, who headed the three-member bench that sentenced former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, has written to Sonia Gandhi to “show magnanimity” and convey intent to the President to remit sentences of the convicts who have been in jail since 1991.
Justice (retd) Thomas points out in the letter that a decision to grant remission by the Tamil Nadu government in 2014 was contested by the Centre and the matter is now before the Supreme Court, according to a report in The Indian Express.
In the October 18 letter to Sonia Gandhi, Justice Thomas writes: “Perhaps the Union government would agree if you and Rahulji (if possible Priyankaji also) would write to the President of India conveying your willingness to grant remission to these persons who have already spent the longest period of their life in prison. It appears to me as a matter of human consideration which you alone can help. As the judge who passed the judgment against these persons I now feel that I should address this letter to you so that you can show magnanimity in the situation.”
Justice Thomas told The Indian Express he was seeking compassion for the convicts. He said there were “serious flaws” in the CBI’s investigation, particularly related to the seizure of Rs 40 lakh from the convicts. It led him to believe that the investigation exposed “an unpardonable flaw”, the report said.
Justice Thomas’ letter said: “I also feel that God Almighty will only be pleased by showing the magnanimity to those prisoners. I may be excused if I have done anything wrong in requesting you as above.”
In the letter, he also mentioned the central government’s decision in 1964 to set free Nathuram Godse’s brother Gopal Godse, also charged with conspiracy in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case after 14 years of jail.
The bench of Justices Thomas, D P Wadhwa and Syed Shah Mohammed Quadri on May 11, 1999 had confirmed the guilt of seven people in the assassination -- four were sentenced to death, including Murugan and his wife S Nalini, Santhan and A G Perarivalan, and three to imprisonment for life.
Justice Thomas had given a minority verdict of life for Nalini, the only accused at the site of the blast that killed Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991. In 2000, however, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life.
Priyanka Gandhi had also met Nalini in jail eight years later, an exercise she described was her “way of coming to peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced”.
In 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of the three other convicts to imprisonment for life.
Justice Thomas told the paper he wondered whether the bench had handed a “severe punishment” because it was a high-profile assassination.
“If it was not a high-profile case, what would have been the outcome? I don’t have answers,” he told the paper.
His decision to write to Sonia was tough, Justice Thomas said. “They are the killers of Rajiv Gandhi… I am requesting her (Sonia Gandhi) to have compassion at this stage.”
After the verdict, which also set free 19 other convicts in the case, Justice Thomas told the Express he read an interview of one of those freed.
“He claimed that when he told investigators that the Rs 40 lakh was paid by none other than Chandraswami, he was warned by an officer to not talk about the godman… I strongly feel that the failure of the Indian criminal system in probing the role of Chandraswami (who died on May 23, 2017) is an unpardonable flaw of the Indian criminal justice system,” he told the paper.
The paper reports: Referring to the CBI probe in the case, Justice Thomas said he was “agitated” during the trial over “serious flaws” by the Special Investigation Team, especially when the agency claimed ignorance about the source of Rs 40 lakh seized from the accused.
“The main accused were all from Sri Lanka. I told the then solicitor general Altaf Ahmed that I can understand the seizure of a few Sri Lankan currency but Rs 40 lakh was such a huge amount in that period. That means there were financially powerful forces behind those who were arrested. I asked him whether he investigated the origin of that cash. After a brief chat with the investigation chief D R Karthikeyan, he sought time to reply. The next day, Ahmed told the court that investigators couldn’t find the source of the cash,” said Justice Thomas.
“I was upset over these serious flaws and shared my concerns with the two others on the bench. They suggested that we shouldn’t criticise the CBI in the final order, considering their efforts. Then I suggested a condition: no criticism or kudos for CBI in the final order. They agreed. After drafting the final orders, we exchanged the drafts for reading. But on the day of the judgment, I was shocked to hear Justice D P Wadhwa’s judgment praising CBI officer Karthikeyan wholeheartedly. That made headlines… sending out a message that the Supreme Court was fully happy with the probe,” he said.
“Since I was the senior judge, he read out his draft only after mine. If I knew about changes he brought in his order, I would have corrected mine, too, to stand by my observations,” said Justice Thomas....