by Sandip Roy
A woman setting herself ablaze to demand mercy for the three men sentenced to hang for the Rajiv Gandhi assassination is one thing. Political parties demanding clemency for Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan is quite another.
Obviously Karunanidhi, still licking his wounds from his election drubbing and family scandals, sees this as a way to put Amma on the spot. And Amma, knowing she has a hot potato on her hands, is trying to pass the buck to the Centre.
Rajiv Gandhi’s role in the Sri Lankan civil war might be unpardonable in the eyes of many Tamils. But he was still the PM. In a country where the hint of dissent can get Arundhati Roy threatened with sedition charges, how do major political parties get away with cozying up to men convicted in the assassination of a former PM?
“How come Tamilians get a pass?” wonders a Tamilian friend. Is a former PM’s life just a political football? Afzal Guru did not assassinate a PM but the delay in hanging him was pounced upon by the BJP as clear proof of a Congress “soft” on terrorism. “Will we wrap garlands around (militants’) necks?” sneered Nitin Gadkari.
But when Karunanidhi throws his weight behind clemency for Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, he doesn’t get tarred and feathered for “vote bank politics”. The BJP had to react but only because its own MP Ram Jethmalani is representing the three convicts. Jethmalani, Venkaiah Naidu told the press, didn’t represent the “party line.”
Back in 2008 when the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee decided to honour Indira Gandhi’s assassins as “martyrs to the cause of the Sikh nation,” both Congress and BJP were quick to condemn it as “disturbing, dangerous and divisive” and “completely unacceptable.” Now the DMK is the Congress’ partner in the UPA.
And Karunanidhi shamelessly hides behind the victim himself saying had Rajiv Gandhi been alive today, “that noble man” would have listened to the “voice of true Tamils” and gone along with “the golden saying of Anna, forget and forgive.” Sonia Gandhi has done her share of forgiving by getting Nalini’s death sentence commuted to life. That’s more than Karunanidhi has ever done. As Amma was quick to point out — he had recommended rejecting the same trio’s mercy plea when he was the CM back in 2000.
DMDK president Vijaykant has tried to go for the shelter of a higher moral ground by saying “Many countries have done away with capital punishment and it is time India also adopted the practice.”
That is a debate well worth having in India. But make no mistake. This is not a case about opposing the death penalty on principle.This is a case about opposing the death penalty when it’s politically expedient, when there is public sympathy for the cause in whose name the killers assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. In this case it is the Tamil exception.