Chennai: In a surprise move welcomed by several parties, including arch-rival DMK, the Jayalalithaa government today decided to set free all seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, a day after the Supreme Court commuted the death penalty of three of them to life.
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced in the state assembly the decision taken at the emergency Cabinet meeting held this morning, triggering celebrations by pro-Eelam supporters in several places in the state.
The Supreme Court had yesterday commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan (both Sri Lankan Tamils) and A G Perarivalan on the ground of 11 years delay in considering their mercy pleas by the Centre.
The Tamil Nadu government set a three-day deadline for itself and also to the Centre over the release of the three and Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, who are undergoing life sentence for their role in the assassination of Gandhi by an LTTE suicide bomber on May 21, 1991 in nearby Sriperumbudur.
Jayalalithaa, making a suo motu statement in the Assembly, said that soon after the Supreme Court reprieve to three death row convicts she consulted legal experts on the observation of the apex court that state could consider their release in the backdrop of them spending about 23 years of incarceration since their arrest in 1991.
She said her government would send the Cabinet proposal to the Centre as mandated under Sec 435 Cr.PC seeking its nod for release of convicts and asserted if there was no response within three days, the government would invoke powers vested with it under Sec 432 Cr.PC and release all seven convicts.
"Whether they respond or not (in three days), accept (the proposal) or not, we will release them under the powers vested with the state government," she said for a second time while intervening Puthiya Tamizhagam member S Krishnasamy.
Her announcement was welcomed by all parties in the assembly barring the Congress, whose state unit leader B S Gnanadesikan later dubbed it as 'competitive politics'.
Taking a swipe at arch rival DMK, whose President M Karunanidhi yesterday demanded immediate release of the three convicts, Jayalalithaa accused that the previous government headed by him was responsible for rejection of mercy petitions by Perarivalan and two others by the state governor and also the President in 2000.
"Had the then government considered the plea of the convicts for clemency and recommended it to the governor, or had taken a Cabinet decision on it, such a thing would not have happened," Jayalalithaa said.
Though DMK was part of UPA alliance for 18 months after her government passed a resolution in the assembly in 2011 urging for commuting death penalty of the trio, that party did not press the Centre for its acceptance, she said.
Later, Congress member J G Prince made some remarks which was expunged by Speaker P Dhanapal which prompted the former and two of his colleagues to stage a walkout while raising slogans hailing Rajiv Gandhi.
Jayalalithaa's announcement, received by loud thumping of desks by the treasury benches, was welcomed by Opposition parties including DMDK and CPI-M and CPI. DMK had boycotted the day's proceedings protesting suspension of its leader Durai Murugan for five days from Monday.
Outside the assembly, the decision was hailed by Karunanidhi, CPI's D Raja, MDMK chief Vaiko, pro-Tamil outfit leader P Nedumaran, besides family members of the convicts.
Perarivalan's mother Arputhammal met Jayalalithaa and thanked her for the decision.
Eelam (separate Tamil homeland) sympathisers celebrated the decision in parts of the state bursting crackers and distributing sweets.
However, there were voices of dissent as well. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, a staunch critic of LTTE, termed the Cabinet decision illegal.
Gnanadesikan slammed the move as an instance of competitive politics.
"Politics is happening over the Rajiv case in Tamil Nadu. After the Opposition urged the release of three convicts, the government has come forward to release seven convicts," he said.
Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan and Nalini, lodged in Vellore Central Prison, were "jubilant like never before" on being informed about the government decision to release all seven convicts, jail officials said.
They also said the convicts would be released once they received the orders from the government.