Former PM Rajiv Gandhi seems to have become the flavour of the season. It may be only a coincidence that the Supreme Court ruled with finality over the power of pardon or remission of punishment, and upholding the right of the proper authority to free life convicts associated with his assassination on May 21, 1991. The Tamil Nadu governor can order their release as the state and its people had almost unanimously sought remission of punishment for the seven who have virtually served two “life sentences” — the 28 years that were incarcerated. The governor's hands were hands tied only by the reluctance of a government, known for its strong line against terror. to set a precedent after a former PM's life was snuffed out in a diabolical foreign plot.
An overwhelming pan-Tamil sentiment was behind the TN Assembly resolution seeking the release of minor players in the conspiracy or even collateral damage after the LTTE suicide belt-bomber killed herself. It’s moot whether any humanitarian sympathy applies to plotters against a nation’s leader. As the governor’s decision has been kept in abeyance for months, it’s clear it’s not the interregnum nature of the Union government that is holding up the release as much as the decisive hard line it took against any reprieve to terror associates. The justice system can’t be expected to take into consideration that Rajiv Gandhi's family had forgiven the killer and the life convicts. It’s the politically conflicted situation in which all Tamil parties are in unison, but the Congress can’t be seen to back the remission as it lost its leader. This created a standoff.
The conundrum remains alive nearly three decades after Rajiv met his ghastly end in Tamil Nadu. It’s ironical that such a tragic figure should have become the focus of the current election campaign as Rajiv’s name has been brought into the fray by the current PM over the use or misuse of government facilities on a “working” holiday in Lakshwadeep. While senior Navy officers, including a former Chief, have dismissed charges of misuse of aircraft-carrier INS Viraat — and which may be true — the fact remains that extensive government infrastructure and other services, including the Indian Navy’s, were utilised for Rajiv Gandhi’s entourage of family and friends. The holidaying group included Amitabh Bachchan and his family, who stayed on Bangaram Island for New Year celebrations back in 1986-87. It’s a different issue altogether whether such excesses of that period should be a poll issue in 2019. It has also been pointed out that Prime Minister Modi took a top Bollywood actor who holds a foreign passport on board the Indian Navy warship INS Sumitra. The bigger, but dreary, picture is one of the government machinery being eternally in thrall of the powerful and ready to serve at their beck and call even as talk rages freely about India’s inequalities.