The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Tamil Nadu government's order to release seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case even as the Prime Minister's Office and the Union home ministry shot off letters to the state, saying it had no jurisdiction in the matter.
State chief minister J Jayalalithaa had sent the Centre in a tizzy on Wednesday when she had raked up the emotional issue and said that her government would release all the seven convicts, including Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan within three days. Her "populist" announcement won an applause from rival parties in the state but she came under severe criticism from most mainstream parties.
The Prime Minister's Office said: "We have 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."
In tandem, the central government got a stay from the Apex court against its decision of commutating the death sentence of Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan on the plea of seeking a review on the fundamental issues of law arising from Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.
Earlier, a Supreme Court bench led by chief justice P. Sathasivam ordered status quo, saying it would examine the procedural lapses in the Tamil Nadu government's decision to release the convicts within three days. Justice Sathasivam said: "When death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment, then the state has to give special reasons for granting remission."
Jayalalithaa came under ctiticism even from the Opposition BJP, with senior leader Arun Jaitley describing the relief to the assassins as unconscionable. "After assassinating a former Prime Minister of the country there can be institutional compassion for such persons is difficult to comprehend. Those who commit such heinous crimes cannot be made symbol of identity politics. Nothing more can hurt national security. It must attract a deterrent punishment," he wrote in his blog.
The union home ministry's letter to the Tamil Nadu government stated rather tersely that section 435 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) empowers the Centre to take a final decision in cases that are investigated by a central agency, in this case, the CBI, and in which the accused have been charge-sheeted under central Acts like Terrorist Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), Arms Act and Passport Act.
Tamil filmmakers hail Jayalalithaa
Tamil filmmakers Bharathiraja, Cheran and Gowthaman expressed their gratitude to Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa for announcing the freedom of seven convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
Bharathiraja said all Tamils should be indebted to Jayalalithaa. "All Tamils in the world are indebted to CM of Tamil Nadu for life. At a time when the centre had rejected the mercy plea of the convicts, the verdict brought out under the leadership of Jayalalithaa is historical," said Bharathiraja.
"The decision to free Nalini, Ravichandran, Robert Pious and J. Kumar, who have already spent over two decades in prison, gives all Tamil around the world a lot of happiness. Also, the cancellation of death sentences of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan makes me happy," he added.
Cheran and Gowthaman expressed their gratitude.