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Tamil Nadu govt wants Rajiv Gandhi’s killers freed: Dangerous populism or liberal gesture?

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Tamil Nadu government has recommended the release of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case to the Governor, saying it is in line with the “public sentiment”.

ThePrint asks– Tamil Nadu govt wants Rajiv Gandhi’s killers freed: Dangerous populism or liberal gesture?

All prisoners, irrespective of the crime or victim, deserve to be treated equally

Manuraj Shunmugasundaram
DMK Spokesperson

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) supports the move to release the seven prisoners. We have maintained that Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts must be freed from prison because they have served 27+ years.

Under the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, a person serving life term spends much less time than the 27 years these convicts have served. These convicts are, therefore, eligible for parole, and it should be assessed if they can re-join society. This is important because prisons must be reformative institutions. There are numerous judgments that support this position and the theory of reformative punishment is accepted across the world.

These prisoners must be treated like any other prisoner who has a right to seek parole after having served possibly the longest sentence in Tamil Nadu. This is not a “populist” move, neither is it appeasement politics. The demand for releasing the convicts is borne out of consideration for basic human rights and the principle that all prisoners, irrespective of the crime or victim, deserve to be treated equally.

When this issue came up in 2011 – the convicts had completed 20 years in prison – and subsequently in the aftermath of the verdict in Union of India vs Sriharan case in the Supreme Court, we maintained that capital punishment must not be applied.

In October 2011, then-DMK president M. Karunanidhi appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to save the three prisoners – Perarivalan, Shanthan and Murugan – from the gallows.

In February 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death penalty to life term and the DMK president had asked the state government to release the prisoners by making a recommendation to the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution.

Life sentence in India should not be understood as the end of one’s natural life. Although Section 435 of the CrPC has been exhausted in the present case, the Supreme Court believes that Article 161 empowers the Tamil Nadu governor to consider the remission of their sentence. Therefore, if the Governor can exercise his power with diligence, their sentences can be remitted.

Convicts regret their actions, nothing wrong in releasing them

D.R. Karthikeyan
Former SIT chief, investigator in the case

I think it is the right thing to do. The convicts regret their actions. As long as they regret the role they played in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and if they were disciplined during their prison term, they deserve to be released. They have served more than the life imprisonment sentence and can be released. Look at it from the humanitarian point of view: 27 years is a long time, and there have been no complaints from the prison authorities on their conduct. There is nothing wrong with releasing them.

This case does not set a precedent because in this case, they have already spent almost three decades behind bars. They should be released. The Governor may consider it and it is possible. The Supreme Court has given the Governor the right to take a call on it.

BJP through AIADMK is trying to gain politically with this move

Khushbu Sundar
Tamil Nadu Congress Spokesperson

It is neither dangerous populism nor a liberal gesture. These convicts have been fighting for their release and languishing in jail for the last 27 years. Either you give them the punishment that they were to be given 28 years back, or release them. Justice delayed is justice denied. Sonia ji, Rahul ji and Priyanka ji have all been magnanimous enough to say that they have no objection to the convicts being released from jail.

If the AIADMK government is trying to gain brownie points here, it does not make sense at all. People know on whose behest they are working. The AIADMK does not take any action on its own. They have always worked under the reigns of the central government. The timing is obviously suspect as the elections are just around the corner. The BJP is trying to pull something because they have nothing else left. They need to gain sympathy and support of the people. They know that they won’t be able to do much in Tamil Nadu. The chief minister and the deputy chief minister are not the chosen representatives of the people.

The Gandhi family has been large-hearted enough to forgive them. Rajiv Gandhi was the PM of the people, a husband and a father who had been assassinated, but the Gandhis are ready to forgive. They are not holding a grudge. How many of us can do that? Releasing them is the right move, but the timing is questionable.

Also read: Five reasons why we should remember Rajiv Gandhi today, his 74th birth anniversary

Humanitarian angle has no bearing in the eyes of law in this case

Ujjwal Nikam
Special Public Prosecutor

The Supreme Court has defined life imprisonment as till the end of life. Thereafter, the SC said that till 14 years elapse, the government has no right to release any convicted prisoner.

Post that time period, the state government has a right to recommend – in this case, the Tamil Nadu government has recommended release of the prisoners as they have spent more than 25 years.

Former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s wife, son and daughter have said that they have no objection to this. Now, the question of the victim’s kin not having an objection doesn’t arise because the event had an impact on society. That the convicts killed a former prime minister of India needs to be taken into consideration.

This attack was conducted after much planning. The SC called it a rarest of rare case. If this same analogy is to be extended, tomorrow a terrorist may commit an act of terror when he is young and after a 25-year term, he can say that he should be released.

This should not happen because this will set a bad precedent. We have to consider the manner in which the accused committed the crime, and its enormity. Humanitarian angle has no bearing in the eyes of law in this case.

Take the example of Ajmal Kasab. When the public prosecutor was demanding death penalty for him, several people said he should be given life term. Had he languished in jail, we don’t know what would happen after 30 years.

I strongly believe that our law says death penalty is awarded in exceptional cases. In the case of Rajiv Gandhi killers, the President upheld it. Ultimately, it was commuted to life term, which is also a form of mercy and the convicts should face the sentence.

World will think India pardons terrorists and killers of former PM

Rohini Swamy
Associate Editor, The Print 

The Tamil Nadu cabinet’s decision to recommend the release of all the seven convicts is an effort to put the ball in the Centre’s court. It is quite clear that the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu wants to whip up Tamil sentiments by recommending their release.

All the convicts have served close to 27 years as part of their sentence, which if you look at through the humanitarian lens stands in favour of the convicts. But we should not forget the bigger picture because India has a different stand on issues of terrorism on the international platform. In fact, India needs to take a stand else it will send a wrong signal to the world that we could let a terrorist go scot-free. And, if this happens in the case involving assassination of a former PM, it would set a bad precedent.

This will be the dilemma that the Centre will face. We could expect the ministry of home affairs to sit on the file since it is a political hot potato.

India has been seeking extradition of Hafeez Saeed since the Mumbai terror attacks. So, if these prisoners are released, any demand by India will get diluted at the international forum. It will seem that terrorist organisations are being pardoned by us. Pakistan may also use this to its advantage.

No political benefit can be gained by invoking this sentiment. It has never paid off for either the DMK or the AIADMK. Neither will it help the BJP become popular.

Compiled by Rohini Swamy, associate editor at ThePrint. 

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  1. Who will tell Mrs Kushbu Sundar that many more families lost their loved ones besides PM Mr Rajiv Gandhi? And who were injured for life? Now tell me who is making this political by showing that Gandhi’s are large hearted? Let the law take it own course. So much delay in decision making has brought us to this stage.

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