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Cong defends review plea

New Delhi, Feb. 20: The Congress today strongly defended the government’s decision to move a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict commuting the death penalty of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers into life imprisonment, drawing a difference between the state’s responsibility to fight terror and the individual act of forgiveness.

Union minister Shashi Tharoor, who made a powerful debut as party spokesperson, explained the difference: “Forgiving is an individual act, not an act on behalf of the nation. The state has the responsibility to protect its citizens and follow the due process of law.”

Not only was the former Prime Minister assassinated but other citizens too lost their lives, he said.

“There is no need to have a lack of clarity on this issue. Our message is clear: Don’t play politics with terrorism. We don’t make a distinction between one kind of terror and another kind of terror. To speak for Tamils, you don’t have to respect the killers.”

Questions had been raised about the inconsistency in the stands of the Congress and the government on commuting the death penalty into life sentence.

Rahul Gandhi had said yesterday that he was “personally” opposed to capital punishment, and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi had stated that the party had no issue with the court’s decision to commute the death sentence.

Even today Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said in Panaji: “We are shocked by the statement of Jayalalithaa that after the sentence being commuted to life imprisonment they would be set free. We have no issue as far as commuting of sentence but she even gave instructions for their release.”

The government, however, decided today to file a review petition challenging the commuting of the death sentence.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement that the government was moving the review petition “on fundamental issues of law.”

The statement issued by the PMO added: “We have also 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. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on the soul of India. The release of the killers would be contrary to all principles of justice.”

Congress leaders defended the decision and said it only reiterated the government’s previously stated position in the Supreme Court. “The party can take a view according to people’s sentiments, ideological position and political assessments but the government has to move in accordance with the legal scheme,” a senior Congress leader said.