Chennai/Amethi: Six men and a woman -- both Indians and Sri Lankans -- convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case will be freed, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa Wednesday announced in a decision that prompted Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to observe that his father did not get justice.
The Tamil Nadu chief minister told the assembly that the government has decided to release convicts V. Sriharan alias Murugan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan, Robert Payas and Jayakumar (Sri Lankans) and A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu, Nalini and Ravichandran (Indians).
All seven had been in prison since 1991, the year a woman Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew up former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally near Chennai.
An emotional Rahul Gandhi said: "The prime minister gave his life... (but the) prime minister does not get justice."
"My father will not come back but it is a matter of the country, not of my family or my father."
"If some one kills the prime minister and he is released, how will the common man get justice," he wondered at a gathering in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
Jayalalithaa said the cabinet decision to free the seven would be sent to the central government. If the central government did not respond within three days, the state would release all the seven.
Perarivalan`s father Kuilnathan was elated on hearing the government`s decision. He told a television channel that he does not have any words to express his feelings.
He said he was happy that his son should be with them during their last days.
Perarivalan`s mother Arputhammal met Jayalalithaa here and thanked her for the decision to release the convicts.
"You have understood a mother`s feeling. I was fearing as to whether my son would come back to me at all. Now that fear has gone," an emotional Arputhammal told Jayalalithaa.
The development came a day after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence awarded to Murugan, Perarivalan and Santhan citing the inordinate delay in deciding their mercy petitions.
The announcement took the political leaders as well as family members of the convicts by surprise.
"The UPA government should be blamed for all this delay," K. Ragothaman, one of the officials who investigated the case, told IANS.
"They have done a great disservice to Rajiv Gandhi`s soul and the others who died with him."
Jayalalithaa said the TADA court had awarded death sentence to 26 people in the case.
On appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence to Murugan, Perarivalan, Santhan and Nalini but commuted to life term the death sentences of Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran. The remaining 19 were released.
Murugan was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam`s (LTTE) intelligence unit while Ravichandran, an Indian, allegedly headed an LTTE-trained group.
The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of Murugan, Perarivalan, Santhan and Nalini against their death sentence in 1999.
Jayalalithaa said the four sent their mercy petition to the Tamil Nadu governor but this was rejected. The matter went to the Madras High Court which asked the governor to take the state cabinet`s advice and decide.
She said the DMK government recommended commutation of death sentence to Nalini, who was married to Murugan, as their daughter who was born in prison would become an orphan if both were hanged.
But the DMK government recommended the rejection of mercy petitions filed by the other three.
In April 2000, the Tamil Nadu governor agreed with the DMK government`s recommendations.
She said the mercy petitions submitted by Murugan, Perarivalan and Santhan were forwarded to the president in April 2000 but no action was taken for 11 years till August 2011.
That month, the union home ministry wrote to the Tamil Nadu government to convey the president`s decision rejecting the three mercy petitions.
Jayalalithaa said the Tamil Nadu assembly urged the president to commute the death sentence awarded to the three.
But the central government didn`t act for two-and-a-half years.
The three convicts facing the gallows filed a case in the Madras High Court seeking commutation of death sentence, citing the 11-year delay in taking a decision on their mercy petition -- and the 23 years they had spent in prison, Jayalalithaa said.
The case was transferred to the Supreme Court, which finally commuted the death sentence Tuesday.
DMK president M. Karunanidhi hoped the centre would give its nod to the state government`s decision to release all the seven convicts.
However, he said the state government could have taken such a decision in 2011 itself.
There was some opposition to the decision.
Legislators belonging to the Congress party in Tamil Nadu wanted to register their protest to Jayalalithaa`s announcement. As they were not allowed to speak, they walked out in protest.