Centre moves SC against TN move to free Rajiv killers

The union government, stunned by the move of the J Jayalalithaa-led Tamil Nadu government to free all the seven persons convicted for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, today moved the Supreme Court against the state government's decision.

Supreme CourtClearly, this indicates that there is no possibility of an alliance between the Congress and Jayalalithaa's AIDMK ahead of the general elections due in less than three months.

The Congress-led central government was already on the back foot after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of three of the convicts to life, on the ground that they had been left hanging on death row for over 10 years while the President of India sat on their mercy petitions.

In its appeal, which the SC will hear later today, the government has also sought a reversal of the decision to commute the sentences of the three.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has issued a statement strongly criticising the move of Tamil Nadu government to free Rajiv Gandhi's killers. ''The state government's proposed course of action to release the killers of Shri Rajiv Gandhi is not legally tenable and should not be proceeded with,'' the PM said, adding that the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on the soul of India.

''Release of the killers of a former PM of India, our great leader, and other innocent Indians, would be contrary to all principles of justice. No government or party should be soft in our fight against terrorism,'' the Prime Minister said.

The Tamil Nadu government had on Wednesday announced that it would release all the seven killers in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. It had given the Centre three days' time to respond, failing which it would go ahead and let all the seven convicts walk free.

On Tuesday, a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam commuted the death sentences of Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan, on the ground of a delay of nearly 11 years in deciding their mercy petitions by successive Presidents of India (See: SC commutes sentence of Rajiv Gandhi killers after 11 years).

Jayalalithaa said the state cabinet had decided to release the convicts as per the powers vested with the state under Section 432 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

It had decided to remit the sentences of Suthendraraja alias Santhan, V Sriharan alias Murugan and A G Perarivalan alias Arivu, considering the long incarceration of more than 23 years.

 It has also decided to release immediately the other four convicts, Nalini, Robert Pyas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, who served life-term for more than 23 years, she had said.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, son of the late prime minister, on Wednesday expressed anguish over the state government's decision.

"If a prime minister's killers can be released, what kind of justice should the common man expect," the all-powerful Congress leader had said. "The prime minister gave up his life ... (but he) does not get justice," he said.

The seven convicts who are set to be released are V Sriharan alias Murugan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan, Robert Payas and Jayakumar (Sri Lankans) and A G Perarivalan alias Arivu, Nalini and Ravichandran (Indians).

All seven have been in prison since 1991, the year a woman Tamil rebel in Sri Lanka suicide bomber Dhanu blew up Rajiv Gandhi (and several others) at an election rally in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, protesting against Indian armed intervention in the island nation's secessionist struggle.