Such is the plight of Indian politics and that of the present government that a tragedy can be reduced to a farce. Till the Supreme Court intervened in the matter to stop the process, it did appear till Thursday morning that the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J.Jayalalithaa, was all set to free the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. It is true that the chief minister cannot act on her own in this particular case but this legal nicety did not stop Ms Jayalalithaa from issuing a three-day deadline to the Central government. Ms Jayalalithaa thus brought the country perilously close to the farce in which seven prisoners convicted in a murder case would walk away free. It did not occur to her that she was making a mockery of the entire system of justice. For her, political gains were paramount. But it would be grossly unfair to put the blame for this ridiculous situation at the door of the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Others, who claim to be more responsible and more conscious of “national interests’’, also have to take their share of the blame principally because of their tardiness and weakness.
The mercy petition of the convicts has been languishing in Delhi from April 2000 to August 2011. Out of these 11 years, the United Progressive Alliance has been in power for seven years. At the helm of this alliance is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi. It was this “inordinate delay” that was cited by the Supreme Court on Wednesday to commute the death sentence of three of the convicts. This created the space for Ms Jayalalithaa to issue her deadline to the Central government. That a bureaucratic or a political delay should lead the Supreme Court to commute a death sentence is bewildering. The laws of the country should not be subject to such ephemeral considerations. A firmer stand by the apex court would have prevented the play of politics with murderers. But this cannot erase the delay that the UPA government brought to the matter. The reasons for this are difficult to fathom; unless the delay is to be related to statements against capital punishment made by the next of kin of Rajiv Gandhi. If the UPA government is against the imposition of capital punishment, it should have made this position public. It could not do so because such a step would be interpreted as a refusal to take a strong stand against terrorists. So the government procrastinated without pondering the consequences of its apparent weakness.