Santhan, alias T. Suthenthenthiraja, spent 32 years in prison for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi
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Mahiyar Rohinton Patel, Pune

Santhan, alias T. Suthenthenthiraja, one of the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi, has died at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai. Santhan had spent 32 years in prison relating to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. He was released from prison in 2022. Since then, he has been an intern at a special camp for foreign prisoners in Tiruchirappalli.

Santhan was admitted to the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in January, where he was diagnosed with cryptogenic cirrhosis with resultant liver failure. Santhan died of a cardiac arrest at 7:50 AM on Wednesday. Hospital authorities say that his body will be handed over to the family after legal arrangements have been made to send it to Sri Lanka. 

Santhan had requested to be deported back to Sri Lanka. His request was approved by the Foreigners Regional Registration Office a week ago. 

Rajiv Gandhi, the ex-prime minister of India, was assassinated in 1991 by members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Rajiv Gandhi was deemed responsible by the LTTE for the civil war, which drowned Sri Lanka in ethnic violence and bloodshed for 26 long and brutal years. Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning for the Congress party in Sriperumbudur for the upcoming state assembly elections in Tamil Nadu when Kalaivani Rajaratnam, alias Dhanu, detonated a bomb strapped under her dress while pretending to touch his feet. The explosion killed the prime minister as well as 14 others. The government arrested 23 people for the crime, including Santhan. In its charge sheet, the CBI said that Santhan was an LTTE intelligence officer closely involved in the crime. 

In a 1999 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of 4 individuals involved in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and freed 19 of the others who had been given the death sentence by a lower court. The four whose death sentences were upheld were Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan, and Nalini. 

In 2000, the death sentences for all the convicts were commuted after mercy pleas were given by the Tamil Nadu government and the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi. In 2021, the DMK government pursued the case to its finality along with senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi, when the convicts, after 32 years in prison, were finally released. 

Santhan, in his last days, had repeatedly written letters to the prime minister, home minister, and president, requesting to be sent back to Sri Lanka.