Rahul Gandhi today said he was sad that seven people convicted of killing his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, were being released by the Tamil Nadu government.
“My father became a martyr. We are against the death penalty. (But) If a Prime Minister’s killers are being released, what kind of justice should the common man expect?” Mr. Gandhi said, hours after the Jayalalithaa government announced that all the convicts would be freed, a politically significant decision ahead of the national election, due by May.
The convicts have been in jail for 23 years. One of them, Nalini Sriharan, was granted mercy in 2000 on the intervention of Rahul’s mother and Rajiv Gandhi’s widow, Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday spared three of the convicts, Nalini’s husband Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, from execution, citing the 11-year delay in a decision on their mercy plea, and left it to the Tamil Nadu government to release them.
Shortly after Rahul Gandhi’s comments, his Congress party officially denounced the Jayalalithaa government’s decision, calling it “irresponsible, perverse and populist.”
Congress leaders from Tamil Nadu, however, may find it difficult to share this view given the largely pro-Lankan Tamil sentiment in the state. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a woman operative of the Lankan Tamil separatist outfit LTTE, who greeted the Congress leader with a sandalwood garland and a bomb strapped to her chest during a rally in 1991.
The case has been inextricably linked to Tamil Nadu’s electoral politics over the years, with all parties joining calls to release the convicts.
“Our grief arises out of the fact that Rajiv Gandhi was killed brutally. I can’t say I am unhappy. It’s the decision of the Supreme Court, so it is not a matter of happiness or unhappiness. I am neither happy nor unhappy. If they walk free, they walk free after 23 years in prison. If court decides that 22 years of imprisonment is sufficient, then that’s it,” union minister P Chidambaram, who is from Tamil Nadu, said. “I do not see this as cynical politics.”
Jayalalithaa’s rival Karunanidhi of the DMK said, “It’s not a prompt decision by the state government. They ridiculed me when I proposed their release.”