Television footage of Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha on Friday. (PTI)
Chennai, Feb. 21: The Tamil Nadu Congress and BJP were found wanting in their reactions to Jayalalithaa’s announcement that she proposed to free the seven life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
Finance minister P. Chidambaram, who should have led the Congress counter-charge, came up with the rather ineffectual “I am neither happy nor unhappy”, when asked on TV about the commutation of the death penalty and the almost immediate release proposal.
For a lawyer and a former home minister who knows the clemency process and is otherwise articulate, Chidambaram’s response was woefully inadequate, said Congress officials in Tamil Nadu.
“PC is the one who has benefitted most by his proximity to the Rajiv Gandhi family, and instead of expressing his shock he comes up with the most blasť reply. It was left to Rahul Gandhi and later Manmohan Singh to convey the anguish of every Congressman more effectively,” said a former state party chief.
Even Tamil Nadu Congress chief C. Gnanadesikan, a loyalist of Union shipping minister G.K. Vasan, initially brushed aside Jayalalithaa’s announcement as an issue between the state and central governments.
It was only when he was upbraided by former Union minister E.V.K.S. Elangovan that he adopted a more aggressive tone. Finally, it was left to two party spokespersons — Peter Alphonse and Americai Narayanan — to rush to TV channels to condemn Jayalalithaa’s decision.
Narayanan also went to the extent of bringing families of victims killed in the blast before the media in an attempt to strike an emotional chord with the public.
“If the DMK or the AIADMK had been in the position of the Congress, they would have organised demonstrations throughout the state. The Congress failed to even stage a protest fast,” said a former Congress MLA, blaming the state leadership for such paralysis.
“There should have been a more co-ordinated rebuttal from us,” said Alphonse.
The Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP fared no better. Its state president, Pon Radhakrishnan, joined the ranks of those who eagerly welcomed the move to release the convicts.
“The state BJP has been outdoing the DMK and the AIADMK in pandering to the Tamil cause in the hope that it would get more votes. It has failed to realise that those who vote for it in Tamil Nadu do so for its nationalistic outlook on issues. This way the BJP will get no votes from the pro-Tamil groups or from the nationalist minded,” observed Cho Ramaswamy, the editor of Thuglak.
Only after Arun Jaitley condemned the move as “unconscionable” and observed that “such heinous crimes cannot be made symbol of identity politics” did the Tamil Nadu BJP change tack.
“We have been asked to toe the central line on the issue since there can be no compromise on terrorism. In fact, there are directions that we use Jaitley’s words on this issue,” said a national office-bearer of the BJP.
The CPM’s Tamil Nadu unit welcomed the commutation of the death penalty and also the Jayalalithaa government’s decision to free the convicts. “This should culminate in the removal of death penalty from our statute,” the CPM said in the editorial of its Tamil daily, Theekadhir.