Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Trial: Supreme Court Verdict of May 11, 1999

by Sachi Sri Kantha, June 27, 2021

The Indian Supreme Court verdict on the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Trial delivered on May 11, 1999 was historic. When I was writing V. Prabhakaran’s biography to this site during 2001-2003, I made use of the three electronic files – then posted in the web pages of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India.

Justice D.P. Wadhwa

The complete reference to the three files, which I had recorded in my published version of Pirabhakaran Phenomenon (Lively Comet Imprint, Gifu City, 2005; ISBN Number 1-57087-671-1, Library of Congress Control Number 2004115838) are as follows:

“Supreme Court Judgements of Justice D.P. Wadhwa, Justice K.T. Thomas and Justice Quadri, on the appeal of Rajiv Gandhi assassination trial; In the Supreme Court of India – Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction/ Death Reference No. 1 of 1998 (Arising out of D.No.1151 of 1998). State of Tamil Nadu through Superintendent of Police, CBI/SIT Petititioner versus Nalini and 25 other Respondents. Made available in the website of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India: http://cbi.nic.in/ under the ‘Cases and Verdicts’ section; segment ‘Judgements.’

Justice K. T. Thomas

Justice D.P. Wadhwa. http://cbi.nic.in/wadwa.htm. (accessed Nov.27, 2000).

Justice K.T. Thomas. http://cbi.nic.in/thomas.htm. (accessed Dec.5, 2000).

Justice S. Shah Mohammed Quadri. http://cbi.nic.in/quadri.htm. (accessed Dec.5, 2000).”

I had stored the files of judgements delivered by Justice D.P. Wadhwa, Justice K.T. Thomas and Justice S. Shah Mohammed Quadri in my clip drive.

Unfortunately, these electronic files are not easily accessible in the CBI web pages NOW. To mark the 30th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi which fell on May 21st, and also the 20th anniversary of my status as the regular columnist of sangam website, I present the prepared versions of these three files in pdf format below.

Justice S.S.M. Quadri

Supreme Court verdict of Justice D.P. Wadhwa, May 11, 1999

Supreme Court Verdict of Justice K.T. Thomas, May 11, 1999

Supreme Court Verdict of Justice S.S.M.Quadri, May 11, 1999

Points to note: (1) Abbreviations: A = accused. PW =prosecution witness. (2) When I prepared these files, I had retained the exotic spellings of a few names (such as ‘Velluppillai Piribhakaran’ for Prabhakaran, and ‘Pottu Omman’ for Pottu Amman) as in the original, without correction. (3) The dates mentioned as numerals are in the format of ‘day-month-year’.



Hundreds of half-baked academic papers, books, post-graduate student dissertations have been published in the past 20 years, implicating LTTE’s terrorism and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, WITHOUT reference to these vital documents of May 1999, by India’s three Supreme Court Justices. Chief culprits were biased academics in Sri Lanka, India, and publishing industries in Chennai and Colombo. As such, access to these judgements in digital format becomes a necessity as a bias reduction exercise.

The thumbnail sketches of the then three Supreme Court Justices, as I could gather, are as follows:

Justice Devinder Pratap Wadhwa. Born May 5, 1935. Native of Punjab. Appointed as a Judge of Supreme Court of India on Mar 21, 1997. Retired on May 5, 2000. Justice Wadhwa wrote the lengthiest judgement – 236 pages.

Justice Kallupurackal Thomas Thomas. Born Jan 30, 1937. Native of Kerala state. Appointed as a Judge of Supreme Court of India on Mar 29, 1996. Retired on Jan. 29, 2002. Justice Thomas wrote a 87 page judgement.

Justice Syed Shah Mohammed Quadri. Born April 5, 1938. Native of Andhra Pradesh. Appointed as a Judge of Supreme Court of India on Dec 4, 1997. Retired on April 5, 2003. Justice Quadri’s judgement was the shortest – only 31 pages.

Within 31 pages, Justice Quadri had summed up what the Rajiv Gandhi assassination trial was about? To quote,

“May 21, 1991 witnessed a terrible happening — explosion of human bomb, an unprecedented event in Sriperambudur (Tamil Nadu) at 10.20 p.m. — which resulted in extirpation of a National leader, a former Prime Minister of India, Shri Rajiv Gandhi, killing of 18 others and leaving 43 persons seriously injured…..

The investigation of that horrible incident was entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)/Special Investigating Team (SIT). On June 26, 1992, after a lengthy investigation, the SIT filed charge sheet in respect of offences under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), Indian Penal Code, 1890 (IPC), Explosive Substances Act, 1908, Arms Act, 1959, Passport Act, 1967, Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, against 41 persons, 12 of them died (2 in the blast and 10 having committed suicide) and three were declared absconding. The case was thus tried against the following 26 accused persons: A-1 (S.Nalini), A-2 (T.Suthendraraja alias Santhan), A-3 (Sriharan alias Murugan alias Thas alias Indu Master), A-4 (Shankar alias Koneswaran), A-5 (D. Vijayanandan alias Hari Ayya), A-6 (Sivaruban alias Suresh alias Suresh Kumar alias Ruban), A-7 (S. Kanagasabapathy alias Radhayya), A-8 (A.Chandralekha alias Athirai alias Sonia alias Gowri), A-9 (B.Robert Payas alias Kumaralingam), A-10 (S.Jayakumar alias Jayakumaran alias Jayam), A-11 (J.Shanthi), A-12 (S.Vijayan alias Perumal Vijayan), A-13 (V.Selvaluxmi), A-14 (S.Bhaskaran alias Velayudam), A-15 (S. Shanmugavadivelu alias Thambi Anna), A-16 (P.Ravichandran alias Ravi alias Pragasam), A-17 (M.Suseemdram alias Mahesh), A-18 (G.Perarivelan alias Arivu), A-19 (S.Irumborai alias Duraisingam), A-20 (S.Bhagyanathan), A-21 (S.Padma), A-22 (A.Sundaram), A-23 (K.Dhanasekaran alias Raju), A-24 (N.Rajasuriya alias Rangan), A-25 (T.Vigneswaran alias Vicky), A-26 (J.Ranganath). Thirteen of these accused are Sri Lankan and an equal number comprises of Indians….

To bring home the guilt of the accused in respect of the charges framed against each of them, the prosecution placed on record confessions of seventeen accused and also plethora of evidence. It examined 288 witnesses exhibited 1448 documents, marked Exs.P-1 to P-1448.

The Designated Court, on consideration of the material placed before it, found all the twenty six accused guilty of all the charges framed against them and awarded punishment of fine of varying amounts, rigorous imprisonment of different period and sentenced all of them to death.”

Defence Counsel N. Natarajan

For prosecution, additional Solicitor General Mr. Altaf Ahmed appeared. Senior Defence Counsel, Mr. N. Natarajan, represented all accused, except appellant No. 15 – Shanmugavadivelu.


Specific Highlights in the Verdict of Justice D.P. Wadhwa

Highlight 1:

“When the prosecution during the course of the trial, which lasted over a number of years, had taken the stand that killing of Rajiv Gandhi was a terrorist act, it cannot now turn about and say that killing itself was not a terrorist act but was committed to achieve the object of conspiracy which was to overawe the Government. As a matter of fact in the statement of Kasi Anandhan (PW-242), who was a member of the Central Committee of LTTE, it has come on record that he met Rajiv Gandhi in March, 1991 when Rajiv Gandhi supported the stand of LTTE and had admitted that it was his mistake in sending IPKF to Sri Lanka and wanted LTTE to go ahead with its agitation. That being the evidence brought on record by the prosecution there is no question of it now contending that there was conspiracy to overawe the Government.”

 Highlight 2:

“Thus examining the whole aspect of the matter we are of the opinion that no offence either under Sections 3 or 4 of TADA has been committed. Since we hold that there is no terrorist act and no disruptive activity under Sections 3 and 4 of TADA, charges under Section 3(3), 3(4) and 4(3) of TADA must also fail against all the accused.”

 Highlight 3:

“There is no evidence that all the nine persons, who arrived in India by boat on 1.5.1991, namely, Sivarasan, Subha, Dhanu, Nero, Dixon, Santhan (A-2), Shankar (A-4), Vijayanandan (A-5) and Ruben (A-6), were members of the conspiracy. In this group there was Ruben (A-6), who came to India to have an artificial leg fixed which he had lost in a battle with Sri Lankan army.

Prosecution also named Jamuna @ Jameela (DA) as a conspirator, who had also come to India for fixing an artificial limb, which she had also lost in a battle with Sri Lankan army. There is not even a whisper in the whole mass of evidence that she had even knowledge of any conspiracy to kill Rajiv Gandhi. Simply because she was found dead having committed suicide along with Sivarasan, Subha and others at Bangalore, could not make her a member of the conspiracy.”

Highlight 4

“This is a case where all these Nalini (A-1), Santhan (A-2), Murugan (A-3) and Arivu (A-18) deserve extreme penalty. We confirm the award of sentence of death on them.”


Specific Highlights in the Verdict of Justice K.T. Thomas

Highlight 1:

“Nothing else is proved in the case either from the utterances of the top brass LTTE or from any writings edited by them that anyone of them wanted to strike fear in the Government either of Centre or of any State.

From the aforesaid circumstances it is difficult for us to conclude that the conspirators intended, at any time, to overawe the Government of India as by law established.

Nor can we hold that the conspirators ever entertained an intention to strike terror in people or any section thereof. The mere fact that their action resulted in the killing of 18 persons which would have struck great terror in the people of India has been projected as evidence that they intended to strike terror in people. We have no doubt that the aftermath of the carnage at Sriperumpudur had bubbled up waves of shock and terror throughout India. But there is absolutely no evidence that any one of the conspirators ever desired the death of any Indian other than Rajiv Gandhi.”

 Highlight 2:

“In view of the paucity of materials to prove that the conspirators intended to overawe the Government of India or to strike terror in the people of India we are unable to sustain the conviction of offences under Section 3 of TADA.”

Highlight 3:

“there is plethora of evidence for establishing that all such preceding activities were done by many among the accused arrayed, for killing Rajiv Gandhi. But unfortunately Rajiv Gandhi was not then ‘a person bound by oath under the Constitution to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India’. Even the Lok Sabha stood dissolved months prior to this incident and hence it cannot be found that he was under an oath as a Member of Parliament.

The inevitable fall out of the above situation is that none of the conspirators can be caught in the dragnet of sub-section (3) of Section 4 of TADA.”

Highlight 4:

“except A-1 (Nalini), A-2 (Santhan),  A-3 (Murugan), A-9 (Robert Payas), A-10(Jayakumar), A-16 (Ravichandran) and A-18 (Arivu) all the remaining appellants shall be set at liberty forthwith.”

“We therefore confirm the extreme penalty imposed by the trial court on A-2 (Santhan), A-3 Murugan) and A-18 (Arivu) for the offence under Section 302 read with Section 120-B of the IPC.

on an evaluation of the plus and minus, pros and cons we persuade ourselves to save A-1 (Nalini) from gallows. Hence the sentence passed on her is altered to one of imprisonment for life.

What remains is the case of A-9 (Robert Payas), A-10 (Jayakumar), and A-16 (Ravichandran). They do not belong to the first or even to the second category. They were LTTE followers and they just obeyed the commands of leaders like Sivarasan who had the capacity to dominate over them. We are inclined to alter their sentence from death penalty to imprisonment for life.


Specific Highlights in the Verdict of Justice S.S.M. Quadri

Highlight 1:

“I agree with brother Thomas, J. and set aside the conviction of all the appellants recorded by the Designated Court for offences under the TADA Act mentioned in category ‘B’ and also the conviction A-4 (Shankar alias Koneswaran), A-5 (D. Vijayanandan alias Hari Ayya), A-6 (Sivaruban alias Suresh alias Suresh Kumar alias Ruban), A-7 (S. Kanagasabapathy alias Radhayya), A-8 (A.Chandralekha  alias Athirari alias Sonia alias Gowri), A-11 (J.Shanthi), A-12 (S.Vijayan alias Perumal Vijayan), A-13 (V.Selvaluxmi), A-14 (S.Bhaskaran alias Velayudam), A-15 (S. Shanmugavadivelu alias Thambi Anna), A-17 (M.Suseemdram alias Mahesh), A-19 (S.Irumborai alias Duraisingam), A-20 (S.Bhagyanathan), A-21 (S.Padma), A-22 (A.Sundaram), A-23 (K.Dhanasekaran alias Raju), A-24 (N.Rajasuriya alias Rangan), A-25 (T.Vigneswaran alias Vicky), A-26 (J.Ranganath) for the offences under Section 120-B read with Section 302 IPC. Their appeals are accordingly allowed.”

Highlight 2:

“The death sentence awarded to A-1 (Nalini), A-2 (Santhan), A-3 (Murugan) and A-18 (Arivu) is confirmed; the death sentence of A-2 (Santhan), A-3 (Murugan) and A-18 (Arivu) agreeing with Thomas,J. as well as Wadhwa,J. and the death sentence of A-1 (Nalini) agreeing with Wadhwa,J. Their appeals are dismissed and Death Reference is accordingly answered.”


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