Tamil Nadu’s governor has been presented a dilemma — he must choose a considered course on the ticklish issue of releasing seven Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts. The overwhelming sentiment to free the prisoners, who have served nearly 27 years after the former PM and others were killed by a suicide bomber, was conveyed in a state Cabinet decision, backed by all Tamil Nadu parties, with the exception of the Congress. The governor has been urged to act under Article 161 of the Constitution, as other legal avenues for clemency have been exhausted. It remains to be seen if the governor will act in a reasonable timeframe or simply sit on it after seeking legal advice, or reject their release as it involves a heinous act of terror by the LTTE on Indian soil.
The sentimental pardoning of the assassins by Rajiv Gandhi’s family should have no bearing as there were 14 other victims, besides the belt bomber, whose relatives haven’t spoken of clemency. What is of most significance is that this act of terror targeted an Indian PM — the surviving plotters should think themselves lucky to have had sentences commuted to life in jail after a Tada court had handed down death sentences to 26 accused. Such commutation hasn’t always been the case in dealing with other prominent acts of terror. Prolonged jailing is considered more humane than the death penalty, that is still an option in India. The clemency process was exhaustive and mercy pleas were rejected by the governor and President. While Tamil sentiments may favour release, the point is whether politics should be allowed to dictate the final course of action.