Chennai: In a surprise move welcomed by several parties, including arch-rival DMK, the Jayalalithaa government today decided to set free all seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, a day after the Supreme Court commuted the death penalty of three of them to life.
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced in the state assembly the decision taken at the emergency Cabinet meeting held this morning, triggering celebrations by pro-Eelam supporters in several places in the state.
The Supreme Court had on Tuesday commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan (both Sri Lankan Tamils) and A G Perarivalan on the ground of 11 years delay in considering their mercy pleas by the Centre.
The Tamil Nadu government set a three-day deadline for itself and also to the Centre over the release of the three and Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, who are undergoing life sentence for their role in the assassination of Gandhi by an LTTE suicide bomber on May 21, 1991 in nearby Sriperumbudur.
Jayalalithaa, making a suo motu statement in the Assembly, said that soon after the Supreme Court reprieve to three death row convicts she consulted legal experts on the observation of the apex court that state could consider their release in the backdrop of them spending about 23 years of incarceration since their arrest in 1991.
She said her government would send the Cabinet proposal to the Centre as mandated under Sec 435 Cr.PC seeking its nod for release of convicts and asserted if there was no response within three days, the government would invoke powers vested with it under Sec 432 Cr.PC and release all seven convicts.
"Whether they respond or not (in three days), accept (the proposal) or not, we will release them under the powers vested with the state government," she said for a second time while intervening Puthiya Tamizhagam member S. Krishnasamy.
Her announcement was welcomed by all parties in the assembly barring the Congress, whose state unit leader B.S. Gnanadesikan later dubbed it as 'competitive politics'.
Taking a swipe at arch rival DMK, whose President M. Karunanidhi on Tuesday demanded immediate release of the three convicts, Jayalalithaa accused that the previous government headed by him was responsible for rejection of mercy petitions by Perarivalan and two others by the state governor and also the President in 2000.
"Had the then government considered the plea of the convicts for clemency and recommended it to the governor, or had taken a Cabinet decision on it, such a thing would not have happened," Jayalalithaa said.
Though DMK was part of UPA alliance for 18 months after her government passed a resolution in the assembly in 2011 urging for commuting death penalty of the trio, that party did not press the Centre for its acceptance, she said.
Later, Congress member J G Prince made some remarks which was expunged by Speaker P Dhanapal which prompted the former and two of his colleagues to stage a walkout while raising slogans hailing Rajiv Gandhi. Jayalalithaa's announcement, received by loud thumping of desks by the treasury benches, was welcomed by Opposition parties including DMDK and CPI-M and CPI.
DMK had boycotted the day's proceedings protesting suspension of its leader Durai Murugan for five days from Monday. Outside the assembly, the decision was hailed by Karunanidhi, CPI's D Raja, MDMK chief Vaiko, pro-Tamil outfit leader P Nedumaran, besides family members of the convicts.
Perarivalan's mother Arputhammal met Jayalalithaa and thanked her for the decision. Eelam (separate Tamil homeland) sympathisers celebrated the decision in parts of the state bursting crackers and distributing sweets.
However, there were voices of dissent as well.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, a staunch critic of LTTE, termed the Cabinet decision illegal. Gnanadesikan slammed the move as an instance of competitive politics.
"Politics is happening over the Rajiv case in Tamil Nadu. After the Opposition urged the release of three convicts, the government has come forward to release seven convicts," he said.
Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, lodged in Vellore Central Prison, were 'jubilant like never before' on being informed about the government decision to release all seven convicts, jail officials said. They also said the convicts would be released once they received the orders from the government.
Next - Rajiv Gandhi assassination case: tracing the trial
Rajiv Gandhi assassination case: tracing the trial
Chennai: The Rajiv Gandhi assassination case has witnessed several twists and turns during past 23 years. Though all 26 accused were awarded death penalty by a TADA court near here in 1998, the Supreme Court confirmed capital punishment only in the case of Murugan, Santhan (both Sri Lankan Tamils), A.G. Perarivalan and Nalini, wife of Murugan.
Nalini escaped the noose following a Tamil Nadu Cabinet decision and the Governor's assent to it in 2000. The clemency petitions of the other three were rejected by the President.
Timeline of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case:
May 21, 1991: Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassinated at an election rally by an LTTE suicide bomber in Sriperumbudur near here.
May 20, 1992: Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the CBI files the chargesheet in the case before the TADA Designated Court at Poonamallee here.
Jan 28, 1998: TADA Court awards death sentence to all 26 accused.
May 11, 1999: Supreme Court sentences Nalini, Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan to death; commutes death sentence of three others to life; frees 19 others.
Oct 8, 1999: Dismissing their appeals, Supreme Court confirms the death sentence awarded to Nalini, Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan.
Oct 17, 1999: The four death row convicts send clemency petitions to Tamil Nadu Governor.
Oct 27, 1999: Governor rejects the clemency petitions.
Nov 25, 1999: Madras High Court quashes Governor's rejection of clemency petitions; directs the Governor to pass a fresh order after obtaining the state Cabinet's views.
Apr 19, 2000: State Cabinet chaired by then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi decides to recommend commuting the death sentence of Nalini alone.
Apr 21, 2000: Governor accepts Cabinet decision to commute death sentence of Nalini. Apr 28, 2000: State government forwards clemency pleas of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan to the President.
Aug 12, 2011: Union Home Ministry communicates to state Government about President's decision to reject clemency petitions.
Aug 26, 2011: Execution of three convicts fixed for September 9, 2011.
Aug 30, 2011: Tamil Nadu Assembly adopts resolution urging the President to commute the death sentence of the three.
Aug 30, 2011: Madras High Court stays execution of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan on their plea. Petitions transferred to Supreme Court later.
May 1, 2012: Supreme Court says it would hear the petitions of three convicts.
Feb 18, 2014: Supreme Court commutes the death sentence on grounds of delay in disposing their mercy pleas. The court also says the state government may consider releasing the convicts under the powers vested with it.
February 19, 2014: State Cabinet decides to immediately release Santhan, Murugan, Perarivalan, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran; sends its decision to Centre under Section 435 CrPC....