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Focus shifts from gallows to Jaya stand
Politics stands in way of immediate release

Chennai, Feb. 18: The Jayalalithaa government is unlikely to release the three Rajiv Gandhi assassins despite the Supreme Court’s view that it was up to the state to consider remitting their life terms, police officers and lawyers said.

The chief minister had got an Assembly resolution passed in August 2011, months after being sworn in, urging the Centre and the President to commute the death sentences of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan. The move was seen as a tool to blunt the DMK’s campaign for Lankan Tamils.

Although demands grew today in Tamil Nadu for the release of the three with Nalini, Jayalalithaa is unlikely to act in haste given her strong stance against the LTTE that is blamed for Rajiv’s assassination. The apex court cited the trio’s 23 years in jail when it said the state government could consider remission.

Jayalalithaa was at the forefront of those demanding a ban on the LTTE in 1991, the year Rajiv was killed, and had later got the Centre to renew the curb every two years.

In December 2006, she had criticised the long delay in executing the three. “By not carrying out the court’s verdict, Tamil Nadu police, the CBI and the people of the country are being made to appear like fools. Such a thing will happen only in India and in no other country,” Jaya, in the Opposition then, had said.

Her government — as well as the previous DMK regime — had opposed Nalini’s bail plea on the ground that she could revive ties with the LTTE.

Jayalalithaa’s push for commutation of the trio’s death sentence and opposition to Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa government over alleged atrocities on the island nation’s Tamils are seen as part of her attempts to champion their cause more effectively than Karunanidhi.

But that may not necessarily translate into further relief for the trio. “The government does not want any of these four (including Nalini) convicts to be celebrated as icons and become rallying points for pro-LTTE forces if they are released,” a police officer said. Jayalalithaa reportedly shares the view.

But Perarivalan’s mother pinned hopes on the chief minister. “While I thank the judges for sparing my son’s life and those of the other two, I look up to chief minister Jayalalithaa to release them from jail,” Arputham Ammal told reporters today.

The temptation to play the Tamil card in an election year may be strong but Jayalalithaa’s no-nonsense approach on law and order matters is likely to stop her from recommending the trio’s release.

Legally, too, it does not seem an open-and-shut case.

Retired CBI officer K. Ragothaman, who filed the Rajiv murder chargesheet, believed remission in such cases could be difficult. “While those convicted of crimes of passion, including murder, are released by state governments for good behaviour and after spending more than 10 years in jail. But in case of pre-planned murders, states adopt a different approach,” he said.