A day after India’s Supreme Court commuted the death penalty of three men convicted of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Tamil Nadu state government Wednesday decided to release them and four other convicts, pending consultation with the federal government.
Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa, told the state assembly: “If we don’t get their [federal government's] response in three days, we will release all convicts in accordance with the rights granted under Indian Constitution.”
Jayalalithaa's politicially controversial decision is likely to be well-recieved in the southern state, which has a largely pro-Sri Lankan Tamil sentiment.
According to the Indian Constitution, a state government has the right to release convicts after considering their “good behavior” on the completion of 14 years in jail.
The release of the convicted men has been supported by all parties including members of the Congress party Gandhi belonged to.
Senior Congress leader and federal Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who is from Tamil Nadu, told a private news channel on Wednesday morning that he is “not unhappy” about the state government’s decision.
“Our grief at Rajiv Gandhi's loss is irreparable but the court made it possible. I do not see this as cynical politics,” Chidambaram said.
India's Supreme Court commuted the sentence of the four convicted killers of Gandhi, ruling that the 11-year delay in their mercy pleas was "unreasonable".
Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991, during an election campaign, by members of Sri Lankan rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).
An anti-terror court sentenced the killers to death penalty in January 1998 and India’s top court upheld the sentence in May 1999.