State set to free seven people jailed over killing of former India PM Rajiv Gandhi

Decision comes after India’s highest court commuted death sentence of three of them to life imprisonment

Delhi

Seven people convicted over the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi more than 20 years ago are to be set free. The decision has been condemned by Mr Gandhi’s son, Rahul, who said the move saddened him.

Jayaram Jayalalitha, chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where Mr Gandhi was killed by a female suicide bomber in 1991, told politicians on Wednesday morning that she had reached the decision as all the prisoners had served more than 20 years.

The decision came a day after India’s highest court commuted the death sentence of three of the seven prisoners to life imprisonment. Their lawyers had argued that to hang them now after such a long imprisonment would represent double punishment.

But the late prime minister's son, Rahul Gandhi, who as a 20-year-old lit his father’s sandalwood funeral pyre and who is currently heading the ruling Congress party’s election campaign, said he was sad the convicted people were being released, though he was opposed to the death penalty.

“If some person kills the PM and is released then how will a common man get justice. It’s a point to ponder,” he said during an election rally in Uttar Pradesh, according to the Press Trust of India. “In this country even the PM does not get justice. This is my heart’s voice.”

Mr Gandhi, 47, was killed in May 1991 at Sriperumbudur, 25 miles west of the city of Chennai, while he too was campaigning ahead of a general election. He was targeted by a team of Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger militants who were seeking revenge for his controversial decision to send Indian troops to the island in the late 1980s.

The troops were dispatched as a supposed peacekeeping force to try and end the civil war, but Indian troops found themselves clashing repeatedly with Tamil militants. 17 other people were killed in the attack on Mr Gandhi, including the bomber, Thenmozhi Rajaratnam.

The seven convicts were among 26 people found guilty of playing lesser roles in the plot to kill Mr Gandhi. They are the only ones still in prison for the assassination, with some of the others having died in jail and some having been released.

The decision has clear political implications as India prepares for elections just a couple of months away. In Tamil Nadu, two powerful regional parties are keen to secure the support of Tamils who may have sympathy for the separatist cause on Sri Lanka.

Both Ms Jayalalitha, who heads the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and her main rival, Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who leads the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and who has served as chief minister on five occasions, have both previously been major players in national coalition governments.

“Traditionally in India, prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment are released after 14 years for good behaviour. Lots of human rights groups were asking for their release but it was not done,” said Gnani Sankaran, a Tamil writer and analyst.

“Now ahead of the [parliamentary] election it’s being done for purely political reasons. Jayalalitha hopes it could get her some emotional support from the Tamil population.”

India’s federal government must approve the decision before the prisoners can be released but Ms Jayalalitha said she would wait only three days. “If the federal government fails to respond in three days, we will release all of them on our own,” she said.

Among those to be set free is Nalini Sriharan, a Tamil woman who was part of the team that targeted Mr Gandhi. She was initially given the death sentence but this was changed to life imprisonment after the intervention of Mr Gandhi’s widow, Sonia, who currently heads the ruling Congress party.

She had appealed for clemency because the prisoner had a young child. In 2008, Priyanka Gandhi, the daughter of Rajiv and Sonia, visited the convict in prison. ‘I needed to make peace with all the violence in my life,” she later said.

The assassination of Mr Gandhi followed the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi’s mother, Indira, in 1984. Following Mr Gandhi’s assassination, his widow ordered that the remains of the clothes and running shoes he was wearing were preserved.

They are on display at the Indira Gandhi Memorial in Delhi, close to the sari Mrs Gandhi was wearing when she assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards in the aftermath of a military operation against Sikh militants at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford attends Blade Runner at Target Presents AFI's Night at the Movies at ArcLight Cinemas on 24 April, 2013 in Hollywood, California
film... but Ridley Scott won't direct
Sport
Hughes is hit by a bouncer from Sean Abbott
cricketStephen Brenkley on batsman's tragic flaw that led to critical injury
Sport
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat
football

News
people

Actress isn't a fan of Ed Miliband

Life and Style
Stefan Gates with some mince flies
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rooney Mara plays a white Tiger Lily in forthcoming film Pan
filmFirst look at Rooney Mara in Pan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: BDD - Digital Banking Technology / CEM - £150k ote

£75000 - £100000 per annum + £150k ote: h2 Recruit Ltd: There are many compani...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Graduate Consultant - Sales Recruitment - £35k ote

£18000 - £25000 per annum + £35k ote: h2 Recruit Ltd: Looking for your first s...

Recruitment Genius: Advertising Media Sales - Print, Online & Mobile

£19000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing house has been ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HRO - £70k+ ote

£35000 - £450000 per annum + £3k car, £70k ote: h2 Recruit Ltd: Do you want to...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital