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Jaya gambit perverse and populist: Cong
Rejection, court plea on Centre’s table

New Delhi, Feb. 19: The Congress has condemned the decision of the Tamil Nadu government to free the seven convicts in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the Centre is likely to formally reject the proposal once the state’s request reaches it.

If the state adopts a posture of confrontation and releases the convicts, the Centre may look for legal remedies instead of getting embroiled in a political tussle.

While the option of direct action against the Tamil Nadu government is not being considered, the Centre can ask its legal officers to approach the Supreme Court for clarification on the prison term of the convicts.

Sources said the Congress itself would not go to court to challenge the decision of the state government and leave it to the home ministry to handle the issue.

The Congress understands this issue involves unforeseen risks as there are several such convicts in different states and a clarification is needed from the Supreme Court if there is a confrontation.

The Congress’s criticism was sharp, describing Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa’s decision as “perverse and populist”. Such a stand was expected after Rahul Gandhi expressed anguish over the possibility of a former Prime Minister’s killers being released.

Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said the ministry had not received formal intimation on the Tamil Nadu cabinet decision till this evening. Minister of state for home R.P.N. Singh also disapproved of the Tamil Nadu government’s decision.

“If they are released without the consent of the home ministry, it will be illegal,” said a government spokesperson.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “Any perverse decision is also liable for judicial scrutiny.”

Singhvi insisted that there was a fundamental difference between commutation of a sentence and release. The party has already said that it has no problem with the Supreme Court order for commuting the death sentence.

Singhvi said: “Every state has powers of remission but these are the powers which are to be exercised by constitutional functionaries in the light of rules and regulations and the spirit of any judicial order.

“The nation cannot forget that it lost not only its former Prime Minister but also 17 other Indian citizens, including Tamils, to terrorism. We condemn unequivocally such irresponsible statements and decisions by such constitutional functionaries. Such decisions announced in such casual fashion and cavalier manner need to be condemned, irrespective of regional, populist and other considerations.”

Asked why finance minister P. Chidambaram did not criticise Tamil Nadu’s decision, Singhvi said it could be his personal view but the party’s stand was clear before the nation.

Chidambaram had said in a television interview: “That grief will always remain. The Supreme Court has not declared them innocent. That’s the main point. If they walk free, they will walk free 20-22 years. So that’s it. If that is the punishment the court felt they should suffer, so be it. I do not have to say that I am happy or unhappy.”

Congress communications chief Ajay Maken issued a statement late in the night, cautioning that the Tamil Nadu government’s decision would only serve as a precedent for other chief ministers and constitutional functionaries to take politically motivated decisions beyond the law.

Contending that the decision was guided solely by political considerations to suit sectarian vested interests, Maken said: “It is not only condemnable but is also against the very basic spirit f rule of law and natural justice. By doing so, the TN government has not only denied basic justice to the families of all those who lost their dear ones in the ghastly attack but has also shaken the faith of every law-abiding, peace-loving and patriotic Indian.”

The statement added: “We believe that those who assassinated our former Prime Minister should not be given any relief.”

Maken said that the BJP was baying for the blood of Afzal Guru and “we are surprised that when it comes to other assassins, they don’t even utter a word”.

assassinations: not all accused are always executed

John F Kennedy, the US President, was shot dead in November 1963 by sniper Lee Harvey Oswald, who was arrested and shot dead by a bar owner in front of television cameras two days later when he was being transferred to prison. Multiple conspiracy theories survive but official probes have all concluded Oswald acted alone

Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistan PM, was assassinated in December 2007 by terrorists widely believed to belong to the Pakistani Taliban. The suicide bomber died on the spot. Seven police officers and former President Pervez Musharraf have been charged with conspiracy but the court verdict is awaited

Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lankan foreign minister, was shot dead by a sniper in 2005 as he emerged from his swimming pool in Colombo. The assassins are widely believed to belong to the LTTE, though the group denied responsibility. The sniper was never nabbed, and Kadirgamar’s gardener and another aide arrested for conspiracy were released two years later for lack of evidence

YitzHak Rabin, Israeli PM, was shot dead in 1995 by Yigal Amir, a Zionist activist upset with Rabin’s peace overtures to Palestinians. Amir was convicted to a life sentence. In 2012, he was transferred from solitary confinement to a less rigorous jail stay — including access to television

Ranasinghe Premadasa, the Sri Lankan President who with Rajiv Gandhi paved the way for India’s intervention in the island nation’s civil war, was assassinated in 1993 by suspected LTTE terrorists. The suicide bomber died on the spot. At least a dozen police officers were arrested for conspiracy but were let off for want of evidence. Sections of Sri Lankans believe the assassination was in retaliation to the murder eight days earlier of the Opposition’s top leader by a suspected government hit squad

Indira Gandhi, Indian PM, was assassinated by her bodyguards Beant Singh and Satwant Singh on October 31, 1984. Beant was killed by security forces on the spot and Satwant was hanged in 1989. Ram Jethmalani defended two others accused of conspiring with Beant and Satwant — Kehar Singh and Balbir Singh. Kehar was sent to the gallows with Satwant but Balbir was acquitted for lack of evidence

Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt, was assassinated at a Victory Day parade in Cairo in October 1981, by Islamist sections within the military. One of the attackers was killed at the spot and three others were arrested. All three, including the mastermind, army officer Khalid Istanbouli, were executed Louis Mountbatten, India’s last viceroy and first governor-general, was assassinated by the Irish Republican Army in 1979 by a bomb planted on his fishing boat. IRA member Thomas McMahon was the only man convicted and was sentenced to life imprisonment. But McMahon was released in 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement

Martin Luther King Jr, the American civil rights champion, was shot dead at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Ray died in prison in 1998, aged 70. The King family has long believed the US government was involved, and multiple conspiracy theories exist even today

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, by Nathuram Godse, a right-wing activist. Godse was hanged, as was conspirator Narayan Apte. Gopal Godse, another conspirator, was sentenced to life and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the man who coined the term Hindutva, was acquitted for lack of evidence. He too had been arrested on charges
of conspiracy

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated with his wife by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, triggering World War I. Princip tried committing suicide but failed and was arrested. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail but died in 1918 from malnutrition.

Abraham Lincoln, the President who ended slavery in the United States, was shot dead on April 14, 1865, while he was at Ford Theater just five days after the end of the American Civil war, by John Wilkes Booth, who was strongly opposed to the abolition of slavery. Booth was shot dead at the spot, and eight other conspirators were arrested. Four were sentenced to life in prison and four hanged.