Chennai: In a major relief for three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Madras High Court on Tuesday stayed their hanging which was scheduled on September 9. Hearing their mercy petition the High Court gave interim relief for eight weeks to Murugan alias Sriharan, Santhan and Perarivalan alias Arivu.
The Centre and the Tamil Nadu government will file a counter affidavit in the case within eight weeks in the assassination case of the former prime minister of India, said the two judge bench of justices C Nagappan and M Sathayanarayanan. Tamil Nadu Police have also been issued a notice by the court.
The three convicts, lodged in Vellore Jail, had filed a petition on the grounds that the President of India took 11 years to reject their mercy pleas. Senior Counsel Ram Jethmalani appeared for two convicts - Murugan alias Sriharan, Santhan - in a case that has political overtones especially in Tamil Nadu. Colin Gonsalves appeared for Perarivalan alias Arivu.
Jethmalani argued in the court that since there has been a delay of over 11 years in disposing off the mercy petition, so the death sentence of the three convicts is "illegal" and "unconstitutional".
"It has 11 years and four months delay in disposing off the petition. The delay unless properly explained and justified makes death penalty immoral, illegal and according to me unconstitutional. The underlying legal argument is by delay in disposing off case, you are guilty for suffering of these convicts. The submission is that whether delay is justified. The court should sent notice and seek explanation what they were doing for all these 11 years," argued Jethmalani.
However, Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy said that the stay was not necessary and the trio should be hanged for the assassination of the former prime minister of India.
"The stay is inconsistent with the Supreme Court judgement of 1990. The stay cannot be given if the President has given a go ahead for execution. This should be clarified in the Supreme court. There cannot be any pardon for anti-nationals. The Attorney General should get the stay vacated," said Swamy.
He called Rajiv's assassination not a question of personal enmity but an act against the state.
Senior journalist and Editor of Thuglak Cho Ramaswamy also said that there was no need to stay the execution.
"Considering the crime, which caused an election to be put off, the delay should not influence the decision. Taking a political view is a matter of the Assembly. The President cannot go on considering a plea. The Tamil Nadu government once rejected the mercy plea when Karunanidhi was the chief minister. The Supreme Court confirmed the sentence. What more is wanted?" said Ramaswamy.
Ramaswamy said that the Constitution does not provide a time limit to the President to take action. "The delay should not be taken as an advantage for pardon," he said.
He also slammed M Karunanidhi for his statement that if Rajiv had been alive he would have pardoned the three convicts.
"Karunanidhi refused pardoned to then and is now saying if Rajiv Gandhi was alive he would have pardoned them. Is he cracking a joke saying the person who is murdered would have been alive and pardoned them?" he added.
Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu Assembly also adopted a resolution moved by the J Jayalalithaa government urging the President to consider the clemency petition and commute their death sentence to life sentence.
But Law Minister Salman Kurshid said that the resolution passed by Tamil Nadu Assembly on amnesty for Rajiv Gandhi killers was not binding on anyone.
K Perarivalan alias Arivu is the only Indian amongst the three men who are facing the death sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case on September 9.
The former prime minister was assassinated by a team of Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorists on May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu during the Lok Sabha election campaign.