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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz