New Delhi: The Supreme Court has put on hold Tamil Nadu's plan to release seven people convicted of killing former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, which has led to a legal battle between the state government and the Centre.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said Tamil Nadu's decision was legally untenable, contrary to all principles of justice and "should not be proceeded with."
"The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on the soul of India. No government or party should be soft in our fight against terrorism," he said.
On Wednesday, a day after the top court spared three of the convicts, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan from execution, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced that all seven convicts in the case would be freed and gave the Centre three days to respond to her decision, after which, she said, she would go ahead. (Rajiv Gandhi's killers to be freed if Centre doesn't respond in three days: Jayalalithaa)
The government says Tamil Nadu must take such a decision in concurrence with it as Rajiv Gandhi's assassination was investigated by a central agency, CBI, and under a central law, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act or TADA.
The Jayalalithaa government has argued that the killers had been acquitted under the central law.
Rajiv Gandhi's son Rahul said yesterday that he was saddened by the decision to free his father's killers. "I am personally against death penalty. But if a Prime Minister's killers are being set free, what justice can the common man expect?" he said. ('If PM's killers are freed, can common man expect justice?': Rahul Gandhi)
The wife of convict Murugan, Nalini Sriharan, was granted mercy in 2000 on the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The couple's daughter Harithra Sriharan, a bio-medicine student in London, has pleaded with Rahul Gandhi to forgive her parents.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 by a woman operative of the Lankan Tamil separatist outfit LTTE, who greeted him with a bomb strapped to her chest during a rally in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu.