22 escape death in Rajiv murder
Voice of mercy
Kidwai exit puts Delhi, Bengal on collision path
Kalyan faces snooping charge
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 11 
The Supreme Court today cut short the longest death row in India, upholding only four of the 26 capital punishment sentences in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The death sentences on three were commuted to life imprisonment, while 19 were ordered to be released ?forthwith?.

The three-judge bench of Justice K.T. Thomas, Justice D.P. Wadhwa and Justice Syed Shah Mohammed Quadri gave separate judgments on the sentence, but ruled through a common order that ?the death sentence passed on Nalini, Santhan alias Raviraj, Murugan and Perarivaalan alias Arivu is confirmed. Death sentence passed on Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran is altered to imprisonment for life?.

?In other words,? the order said, ?except Nalini, Santhan, Murugan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar, Ravichandran and Arivu, all the remaining appellants shall be set at liberty forthwith.?

In January 1998, the special court in Poonamalee had sentenced to death the 26 accused in the case.

The 19 cleared of direct involvement in the assassination were, however, convicted of other offences under various laws like the Arms Act, Foreigners Act, Indian Penal Code, Explosive Substances Act, Passport Act and the Wireless and Telegraph Act. But since they have already spent the period of sentence in jail, they would be set free.

The bench said: ?If they have already undergone the period of sentence under those counts, it is for the jail authorities to release those against whom no other conviction and sentence exceeding the said period have been passed.?

The court ?set aside? offences made out against all the 26 accused under Tada. All of them, including those now facing death and life terms, were exonerated of Tada charges. The convicts were punished for murder (under Section 302 of IPC) and criminal conspiracy (Section 120-B of IPC).

Today?s ruling ends the nine-year-long proceedings after the death of Rajiv Gandhi, assassinated by a human bomb at a poll rally at Sriperumbudur in May 1991.

Of the four on death row, all, except Nalini, were activists of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which is responsible for killing the former Prime Minister.

The judges differed on sending Nalini to the gallows. However, she lost 2-1 as Justice Quadri and Justice Wadhwa outvoted Justice Thomas, who felt that since Nalini?s husband Murugan was to die, she should be saved so as not to make their child an orphan.

Nalini is the only survivor of the five-member LTTE team that killed Rajiv Gandhi. While the human bomb, Dhanu, and photographer Haribabu ? assigned without his knowledge to capture the ?assassination of the century? ? died in the explosion, Sivarasan and Shubha fled the scene but committed suicide later.

While trying this case, the Supreme Court for the first time allowed video evidence and watched visual footage in open court.

Appearing for the convicts, senior counsel N. Natarajan contended that all the accused did not have prior knowledge of the murder plot and hence ?varied degree of complicity warranted varied degree of sentence?.

Countering Natarajan, additional solicitor-general Altaf Ahmed said all the accused were directly involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi and, therefore, on the basis of ?involvement in the conspiracy? should be sentenced to death.

A pro-LTTE organisation which funded the defence of the accused said review petitions will be moved against the sentences on the seven.    

New Delhi, May 11 
Justice K.T. Thomas, one of the three judges who delivered the final verdict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, tried to spare Nalini, who had given birth to a girl in jail, the death sentence.

The judge said ?Nalini was indoctrinated? by others who ?brainwashed? her by narrating stories of the ?rapes and killings? by the Indian Peace Keeping Force. ?She was made to believe that rapes and excesses were committed by the IPKF. She did not play a dominant role,? he said in his ruling.

?Nalini is an educated lady and, of course, was an obedient participant in the conspiracy,? Justice Thomas said, but added, however, that ?taking all the facts into consideration, I feel the child should be saved from being orphaned?. The child?s father, Murugan, has also been sentenced to death.

The judge said Nalini?s child would be orphaned if she was sent to the gallows, so the law had to consider the human aspect as well.

Justice D.P. Wadhwa, however, convicted Nalini, saying ?justice knows no father or mother?. Justice S.S.M. Quadri tilted the balance in favour of this argument, resulting in the conviction of Nalini. Srini, Nalini?s eight-year-old daughter, is with her gandmother in Australia. Srini attended the trial court regularly before she was taken away to Australia to live with Murugan?s mother.    

New Delhi, May 11 
The Centre has waded into a fresh showdown with the West Bengal government and the Opposition, forcing Governor A.R. Kidwai to resign while on summer retreat in Darjeeling.

The caretaker Vajpayee government struck last night, asking Kidwai to step down, after giving a commitment to President K.R. Narayanan that only two Governors would be changed.

Besides Kidwai, Arunachal Pradesh Governor Mata Prasad has also been asked to resign. But a late-night agency report quoted Raj Bhavan sources in Itanagar as saying no Central communication has been received.

Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee, in an hour-long meeting with the President during the weekend, had raised the transfer of just the two Governors whose term had ended.

Narayanan could not have demurred as he had allowed another caretaker Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral, to transfer the Governors of Goa and Mizoram in late 1997.

Vajpayee told the President that both Kidwai and Mata Prasad had completed their five-year tenures. But an exception was made in the case of Bihar where the acting chief justice of Patna High Court will continue in his officiating capacity till the elections are over.

The new incumbent in Calcutta Raj Bhavan is likely to be K. Padmanabhaiah, the Union home secretary during the tenure of P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Though Padmanabhaiah had retained his job for quite some time during the United Front regime, he has moved close to Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu after the BJP-led government assumed power.

Naidu has been pleading with the Centre that Padmanabhaiah should be given a proper post-retirement assignment.

If Padmanabhaiah is appointed in Bengal, it will rub salt into the wounded pride of the CPM, which will observe tomorrow as condemnation day.

The party, more infuriated because the removal was timed a few hours before chief minister Jyoti Basu?s departure for London, has also threatened a state-wide agitation.

Kidwai, who cut short his stay in Darjeeling and returned to Calcutta this evening, refused to comment.

However, Basu said at the airport: ?The Governor after having received the message from some Union home ministry official, called me around 9.30 pm last night and asked what he should do. I told him, ?You are a perfect gentleman. You cannot behave like the uncivilised BJP government. You resign?.?

Basu also made it clear the Left Front will protest the way Kidwai was removed.

The Congress, too, reacted strongly, with Pranab Mukherjee insisting that it went against the conventions of running a ?caretaker government?.

He said that to all the four Bs ? bus, bomb, Bihar and budget ? the BJP government had in its cap, it must add ?badli?.

At a raucous press conference at the BJP headquarters, party spokesperson K.L. Sharma said: ?It all squares up. They (the United Front government) had changed two Governors and so have we.? But what the party spokesperson avoided saying was L.K. Advani had then insisted on dubbing it an ?illegitimate exercise?.    

Lucknow, May 11 
The BJP leadership?s effort to throw a veil over the ugly face of its feuding Uttar Pradesh unit lay in shreds today with Kalraj Mishra, the second man in Kalyan Singh?s Cabinet, accusing the chief minister of putting him under watch.

?My house was under the surveillance of Uttar Pradesh police for a long time. The chief minister did his best to get the special task force to link me with Sri Prakash Shukla (the mafia don killed in an encounter six months ago). A fax was sent to the producers of the television programme India?s Most Wanted, asking them to come to Lucknow and see if Shukla?s car was parked at my residence,? Mishra said.

Mishra said DIG (Lucknow range) Arun Gupta was sent to inspect his residence. Mishra said his security guards were questioned during his absence. They were asked if Shukla took shelter there regularly. ?When the guards said he did not, the police entered my home and searched the premises,? Mishra said.

He said incidents like these had ?pained and hurt? him, but he had chosen to remain silent ?in the interests of the party?. Mishra added he had not brought to the notice of the party high command the police surveillance and Kalyan Singh?s reported instruction to the special task force to associate him with Shukla because he was ?exercising restraint?.

Why, then, has the long-suffering Mishra suddenly come out in the open? ?I have been bracketed with the dissidents. The papers say that Lalji Tandon and I are the main dissidents. This is not true. The chief minister will not believe this, but I have been speaking to dissident MLAs and asked them to stop their activities for the sake of the party,? he said.

Mishra has not just spoken out. He has also had a chat with Kalyan Singh about the police watching his residence. Mishra said the chief minister ? when told about the surveillance ? expressed surprise and said he would find out more about the matter.

?The chief minister later called to say that my facts were wrong and that he had ordered no surveillance. But I told him that my facts were one hundred per cent true. No police officer would search the residence of a senior Cabinet minister without the approval of the chief executive of the state,? Mishra said.

The home department said there was never any ?official order? for surveillance. A senior official, then posted in the department, said: ?Nothing of this kind was brought to my notice.?

Mishra said he had advised Kalyan Singh not to be ?vindictive? and refrain from ?bullying others? just because he had a difference of opinion with them.

The tourism minister emphasised that he was not with the dissidents and had not joined the chorus demanding Kalyan Singh?s removal.

?It is not possible. I have suggested an honourable way out. Kalyan Singh should promise suraksha (security) and samman (respect) to all the MLAs.

Those feeling threatened should be given additional security. District magistrates and senior officers should be told in writing to cooperate with these MLAs and ensure that their local grievances are sorted out,? Mishra said. Even though the charge levelled by him today is the most serious voiced so far against the chief minister, Mishra would like to portray himself as a ?bridge? between Kalyan Singh and the dissidents.

?I am pained at what has been done to me. But for the sake of the party, I will try my utmost to see that elections are fought unitedly. I am willing to help the chief minister but he should change his style of functioning and not treat me with suspicion,? Mishra said. Already under pressure from the high command to make peace with dissidents by offering concessions, Kalyan Singh will now find himself in an even weaker position.

Ally demands 15 seats

The Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party, a partner in the ruling coalition in Uttar Pradesh, today offered to contest the Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the BJP but demanded 15 seats.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. One or two spells of shower or thunder shower. Slight rise in day temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 35.5 (1?C below normal)
Minimum 27.2?C (1?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 92% Minimum 54%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 6.05 pm Sunrise: 5 am    

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