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DMK to bat for end to death penalty

Chennai, March 11: The DMK today declared in its manifesto that it would fight to abolish the death penalty, having championed the cause of the three death-row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

In 2000, the DMK government had missed its chance to commute the trio’s death penalty to life. The governor had then referred the mercy pleas of Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan to the Karunanidhi government. It commuted Nalini’s sentence to life on Sonia Gandhi’s plea. But it rejected the pleas of the others and asked them to appeal to the President.

Sparing the three from the gallows at that point may have proved suicidal for the DMK. Only two years earlier, its indictment in the Rajiv Gandhi killing by the Jain Commission had led to the Congress toppling the United Front government in 1998.

So, whenever the demand for commuting the trio’s death penalty came up, the DMK was on the defensive.

However, the long delay by the Centre in deciding the mercy petitions eroded public anger against the trio. Pleas to commute the death sentence grew stronger and gained wider support. So much so, that even a staunch anti-LTTE politician like Jayalalithaa passed an Assembly resolution supporting the commutation and tried to release them after the Supreme Court reduced their death sentence to life.

The AIADMK manifesto was strangely silent on this in spite of Jayalalithaa’s “humane gesture” that was hailed by political parties in the state barring the Congress.

Possibly, the AIADMK was hampered by the death sentence awarded to three party workers convicted in the Dharmapuri bus-burning. So, if the party proclaimed it was against death penalty, it would be accused of batting for three men found guilty of killing three young girls.

The three AIADMK men — Nedunchezhian, Ravindran and Muniappa — were declared guilty of murder after they set fire to a college bus near Dharmapuri in February 2000 to protest against Jayalalithaa’s conviction in a corruption case.

A trial court sentenced the trio to death terming it a “rarest of the rare” case. The high court and Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Their mercy pleas have been with the President since September 2010.

Jayalalithaa’s rivals claim her decision in the Rajiv Gandhi case was aimed at paving the way for a similar decision if the death penalty against the Dharmapuri trio is commuted to life.

Left to go alone

The two communist parties will be contesting the general election on their own in Tamil Nadu after the CPI too decided not to join the DMK front.

The CPM and the CPI are planning to contest between 10 to 15 seats. “We will prove the relevance of the Left in Tamil Nadu’s politics,” asserted G. Ramakrishnan, state CPM secretary.