Ajith Vijay Kumar
The Supreme Court verdict commuting the death sentence of three key conspirators in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the quick announcement by the Tamil Nadu government to release all the seven condemned prisoners in the case has triggered a debate that is questioning the very basics of the Constitution of India.
While the learned court would have based its verdict on past precedents and by accepting the defence by the accused that the delay in disposal of mercy petitions amounts to torture and is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty. No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law), the enthusiasm in the political class, especially in Tamil Nadu, to take sides is a worrying development, though not unexpected.
Forever depended on the elixir of Tamil nationalism, politics in Tamil Nadu has been a heady mix of Dravidian hard line views and cinema, making it a highly emotive business to be in.
Chief Minister J Jayalaithaa, a former cine superstar, knows it well and trumped her opponents by clearing the release of Sriharan alias Murugan, AG Perarivlan alias Arivu and T Suthendraraja alias Santhan.Nalini, Ravichandran Robert Payas and Jayakumar, after 23 years in prison.
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It doesn’t matter anymore to anyone that she was once a hardcore critic of slain LTTE chief V Prabhakaran; by wanting to release Rajiv`s assassins, she has reasserted her place among the voices in Tamil Nadu that want Sri Lanka to be booked for genocide. The issue is such a political Tsunami in the state that no party can afford to be on the other side.
She has got the timing just right ahead of the Lok Sabha polls; she hopes that she will be propelled into the Prime Minister`s chair in the South Block.
She has reasons to be optimistic. One, pre-poll surveys have predicted a sweeping victory for AIADMK. Second, the Left, thankful of her largesse of leaving two seats for them, has announced that they will pitch for her as the PM if the Third Front is in a position to dictate terms post May.
Jayalalithaa has her eyes set on the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, if she manages to win most of them, if not all, she calculates that she can have a real shot at the throne.
And what better way to ensure it than by touching the raw nerve of the Tamil populace, a section of which always believed that the convicts, who were spared the gallows, are innocent.
Also Read: Survivor says nothing wrong in release of Rajiv case convicts
Thousands of miles away from the Vellore prison where Rajiv Gandhi`s assassins are oscillating between hope and despair, lives the family of Afzal Guru.
Guru had paid with his life for attacking the Parliament of India, his family now feels that the courts were biased to him and that he was scarified by the Congress for votes.
Not to be found wanting in display of Kashmiri nationalism, the PDP and National Conference have begun grinding their own axes.
PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti said, “The honourable Supreme Court had once said that `to satisfy the collective conscience of the country`, death sentence was given to Afzal Guru. Although, there were many things which were unexplained and there were not much evidence against him."
"Rajiv Gandhi`s assassins, who was no less a symbol of Indian nationhood than the parliament in itself, which was also attacked, are not being treated in the same way. The hearing has come today which is a good thing, but I wish that they had given a similar decision in other cases such as that of Afzal guru. By this decision they have promoted a feeling of alienation in the state and it is not only me who is saying this, but the other political leaders would say the same," she added.
She topped it up today by questioning Rahul Gandhi`s silence on Afzal Guru`s execution when he has now openly expressed his sadness over the developments in the case assassination of his father.
“If someone who kills a prime minister is released, how will the common man get justice? The prime minister gave up his life... (but the) prime minister does not get justice," Rahul said.
It does this to people when they are in politics; voices want Rahul to be a politician first then a son who lost his father at a young age.
His party`s government has now secured a stay against the Tamil Nadu`s government’s decision. The Congress has not much of a presence in the state, and is likely to lose in any case.
But only finding fault in the ongoing game of scoring political points would be missing the woods for the trees.
The issue is much bigger than votes – may be not for the political class but for the common citizenry.
While issues like abolition of death sentence is in the scope of a much wider debate, what is of concern in the current case is the attempt to let the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi walk free.
Rajiv Gandhi`s killers may have spent decades in prison, but can it suffice as justice to the gravity of the crime? And, whether releasing them will not imply that any evil doer can walk away after committing the gravest of crimes provided it is committed for an “emotive cause”?
The nation, as always, pins its hopes on the Supreme Court to set the rules, set the bandwidth straight on what is acceptable and what is not.
Who knows the next manslayer may be waiting to hit for the next “big cause”.