It all began on February 18, 2014 when the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of three Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts-Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan -to life sentence on the ground that they already spent 20 years in jail and that there was inexplicable delay in deciding their mercy pleas and left it to the “appropriate authority to grant them remission”.
Presuming that the state government was the “appropriate authority” in the case, which the apex court on Wednesday declared “was not”, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in a politically motivated move causing huge national uproar not only ordered the release of the trio but also four others-Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, who were serving life sentence, thereby granting remission to all seven convicts.
A shocked Rahul Gandhi had then said: “If a prime minister’s killers can be released, what kind of justice should the common man expect?”
Same day, the then leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, now finance minister, wrote in his blog – “After assassinating a former prime minister of the country there can be institutional compassion for such persons is difficult to comprehend.”
He had said: “Terrorism is an offence against the country. It must attract a deterrent punishment.” Before a constitution bench deciding on who had the authority to grant remission, Modi government’s legal team headed by Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar vociferously argued that Rajiv’s killers deserved no mercy.
“Our former prime minister was killed in a conspiracy hatched outside this country in which foreign nationals were involved and the conspiracy was executed by these convicts.
Why should mercy be seen or shown? This is to be looked by you,” Kumar had told the court.
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s excellent rapport with Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, NDA government also did not alter the stand of UPA regime that Tamil Nadu government had no authority to order the release of the convicts unilaterally without the “concurrence” of the Union government as the case was probed by the CBI, a central agency.
This argument was totally endorsed by the five judge bench of the apex court, which after deciding the “complex questions of law” left the decision on the plight of the seven convicts to a separate three judge bench.
“Suo motu grant of remission by state not permissible. It can only be initiated based on an application of the person convicted and ultimate order of suspension or remission should be guided by the opinion rendered by the Presiding Officer of the concerned Court”, said the bench.
The bench did not agree with the contention of the Tamil Nadu government that it had consulted the Centre on the release and that would suffice.