TN told not to proceed with release of Rajiv killers: PM

TN told not to proceed with release of Rajiv killers: PM

Holding that assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on India's soul, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the release of his killers would be "contrary to all principles of justice" and the Tamil Nadu government has been told not to proceed with it as it is "not legally tenable".

In a statement here, he said that no government or party should be soft in the fight against terrorism, an apparent reference to the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu which has decided to release all the seven convicts in the assassination case after the Supreme Court commuted death sentence of three of them to life imprisonment.

"The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on the soul of India," Singh said in the statement issued soon after the government moved a review petition in the Supreme Court on the "fundamental issues of law".

"The release of the killers of a former Prime Minister of India and our great leader, as well as several other innocent Indians, would be contrary to all principles of justice," the Prime Minister asserted.

He said the Centre has "informed the Tamil Nadu government that their proposed course of action to release the killers of Rajiv Gandhi is not legally tenable and should not be proceeded with." 

The Jayalalithaa government had yesterday decided to set free all seven convicts in the assassination case after the apex court had commuted the death penalty of three of them to life imprisonment.

Besides Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, who earned a major reprieve on February 18 from the apex court which spared them from gallows, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran are the other four convicts whose release was decided by the Tamil Nadu government.

Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan are currently lodged in the Central Prison, Vellore, in Tamil Nadu and they are in jail since 1991.

Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, are undergoing life sentence for their role in the assassination of Gandhi on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur.

The Supreme Court had commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan (both Sri Lankan Tamils) and A G Perarivalan on the ground of 11 years delay in deciding their mercy pleas by the Centre.

It had also rejected the Centre's submission that there was no unreasonable delay in deciding their mercy plea and the condemned prisoners did not go through agonising experience as they were enjoying life behind the bars.

Gandhi's assassins were convicted by a TADA court in January 1998 and were awarded death sentence, which was confirmed by the apex court May 11, 1999. 

Reacting to the Tamil Nadu government's decision, Law Minister Kapil Sibal said the assassination of the former Prime Minister was not just an attack on an individual but on Republic of India.

He also took at BJP for practising "double standards" on terror and questioned why the opposition party, which keeps raising the issue of terrorism, is silent on this decision of the AIADMK government.

"I want to ask a specific question to Narendra Modi why are you quiet on this? It's a wrong signal.

"It's not just a wrong signal on your behalf. It also sends a wrong signal on behalf of your party....No government and no political party should have double standards when it comes to our fight against terrorists," he told reporters outside Parliament House.

"It is unfortunate that in India, political parties and governments have double standards when it comes to terrorism. While in some places innocents are killed in the name of terrorism through fake encounters, on the other hand, certain political parties do not raise their voice against terrorists, especially those who killed our dear ex-Prime Minsiter," he said in a veiled reference to alleged fake encounter cases in Gujarat.

Union Minister Manish Tewari said it was unfortunate that the Tamil Nadu government behaved in this manner.

"The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was not merely assassination of one individual. It was an attack on the Indian state. The entire decision (of the Tamil Nadu government) is extremely unfortunate.

"When the Supreme Court interpreted that life sentence is sentence for life, the Tamil Nadu government took a decision contrary to what is interpreted in various judgements. I think this itself is very unfortunate," Tewari said. 

BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy has criticised Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa for deciding to set free the assassins and asked the Centre to intervene on the issue.

"Jayalalithaa is a cinema actress who does not know laws and has taken the decision without bothering to know as to what relevant provision of law says," Swamy told reporters in Vadodara today.

He appealed to the Centre to "take appropriate steps in preventing Jayalalithaa from taking such a decision" and if necessary, even "take action against her" if she goes ahead with it.

"Government has made many mistakes which is the reason that this is happening. The matter was in SC, it is a sensitive issue and people have faith in judicial system of the country. Justice should be equal for all," said BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain.

Meanwhile, CPI leader D Raja said, "I do not find anything wrong in the decision of the TN government. It's not the party's decision, it is the TN govt's decision."

"It's not politics. I don't see it as a political issue. It is a legal constitutional issue. Now SC commuted the sentence... SC itself pointed out that if state desires to release them it can do." 

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