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'Supreme Court did not find them innocent, commutation due to delay'

February 19, 2014 14:13 IST
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed on May 21, 1991, in Tamil Nadu in an assassination plot by the LTTE

The Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins from prison a day after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of three of the convicts to life term, has triggered a major debate.’s Vicky Nanjappa spoke to case investigators and legal luminaries to know their thoughts on the issue.

D R Karthikeyan
Former CBI director and lead investigator in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case

“The task of investigating the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case was given to me immediately after the incident. When I was handed over the case, I was told that it was a blind case and could well end up like the JFK murder case.

“There was no great deal of information that was forthcoming and even the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing did not have clues.

“We worked 20 hours a day, not to mention that there was a threat from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as the case progressed. We conducted a number of raids, seized and examined over 100,000 photographs, seized 500 video cassettes and several material related to the case. My team and I managed to collect all the evidence and the accused were prosecuted which was also upheld by the Supreme Court.

“We ensured that the conviction went through with proper evidence in the highest court of the land. These convicts then filed a mercy petition and then went up to the Supreme Court stating that their petitions had not been decided upon for 11 long years. The court commuted their death sentences to life based on this delay. But let us remember that the Supreme Court has not held them innocent.

“Today, the Tamil Nadu government has decided to seek their release and is awaiting a central government order on the matter. I have nothing personal against the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and I personally gain nothing whether they are hanged or not.

“At the end of it, I would point out that their sentences were commuted because of the inability of the government to decide on the matter sooner. Sad that everyone has forgotten the killing of Rajiv Gandhi and 17 others and each one is trying to take credit for their release. I just feel sad for my country.”

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'Take to task the person responsible for delay in the executions'

February 19, 2014 14:13 IST
The last moments of Rajiv Gandhi

R Shrikumar
Former Karnataka police chief and member of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination investigation team

“My understanding is that when a life sentence is handed out, it would mean that the person stays in jail for life. However, remission is still part of the game and this is what has led to all this. 

“You ask me if I am demoralised? Well, all I can say is that our job was to investigate the matter and place the facts before the court, which we did. We did our job and these persons were convicted.

“I guess it is time to take to task the person responsible for this delay in the first place on the basis of which the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence to life. 

“The Tamil Nadu chief minister has taken a decision and it is now up to the central government to consider it.”

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'Such decisions are very unfair to the victim'

February 19, 2014 14:13 IST
Four of the seven convicted for Rajiv Gandhi's assassination

Justice Santosh Hegde
Former Supreme Court judge

“When the Supreme Court pronounces a verdict handing out a life sentence, it means that the person stays in jail for life. It is not 14 years as many state governments would believe while handing out remissions.

“Such decisions taken by the government are very unfair to the victim. People speak of human rights. Does the victim and his family not have any human rights? 

“Be it the murder of a VIP or an ordinary man, the government needs to be more sensitive to this issue.

“I am unable to comprehend the logic behind this. The state government has suggested their release a day after the Supreme Court commuted their sentences to life. This is not done and the state ought to realise that if a crime is not punished properly then it is bound to repeat.

“I was part of a Supreme Court judgment where we pulled up the Haryana government which was handing out remissions and letting people out on parole. When a crime is committed and the prosecution has worked so hard in convicting these accused, it is depressing to see the governments take such a lacklustre approach.”

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'Let us not look at the stature of the victim here'

February 19, 2014 14:13 IST
Sonia Gandhi pays tributes to her late husband

Uday Shetty
Senior Advocate, Karnataka High Court

“It is up to the Centre now to decide on what is to be done in this case. The state does have the right to suggest a remission and by doing so the Tamil Nadu chief minister has gone on to embarrass the Centre. 

“The Supreme Court was not wrong in its verdict. Let us not look at the stature of the victim here and treat this as another case. 

“There are no separate laws for VIPs and the common man. The same verdict would have applied in the case of any other accused too. It is a fitting reply by the Supreme Court, which has shown the government in very poor light. 

“The government had 11 long years to decide and I wonder what they were doing. This should set a precedent for all future cases and the government ought to learn a lesson from this.”