CHENNAI, Aug 30 (IANS): The hanging of the three men sentenced to death for conspiring to assassinate former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was stayed for eight weeks by the Madras High Court Tuesday, coinciding with the Tamil Nadu assembly passing a unanimous resolution asking President Pratibha Patil to review the mercy petitions.
Hearing the petitions filed by Murugan alias Sriharan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan and A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu that their death sentence be commuted, the high court ordered an interim stay on the hanging pending disposal of the case.
The court has ordered notice to the union government returnable in eight weeks.
The petitions were heard by Justices C. Nagappan and M. Satyanarayanan.
On Aug 11, President Pratibha Patil rejected the mercy petitions of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan - all linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - and sentenced them to death for their involvement in Gandhi's 1991 assassination.
Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister 1984-89, was killed by a suicide bomber called Dhanu at an election rally in Sriperumbudur near Chennai May 21. Fourteen other people also lost their lives in the blast.
The Tamil Nadu assembly also moved a resolution asking the president to review her mercy plea and commute the death sentence to life imprisonment.
Citing the concern of the people of Tamil Nadu and the appeals by various political parties, Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa said the resolution was moved on behalf the state government.
The clemency petition was rejected by the Indian president after 11 years and the delay is prima facie wrong, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani said while arguing for Perarivalan.
He said a notice seeking explanation for the delay should be sent.
Urging speedy disposal of mercy petitions, Jethmalani had said earlier that if there was a delay of two years, then the death sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment.
"Perhaps the delay in deciding on the mercy petition made the high court grant the stay. The Rajiv Gandhi assassination case is one of the rarest of rare cases where death sentence is warranted," political commentator Cho Ramaswamy told IANS.
"Apart from Rajiv Gandhi, several others got killed in the blast," he added.
According to him, the "save the three" chorus sung by almost all parties was politically motivated.
Added Gnani, another political analyst: "The assembly could have passed a resolution against death penalty in general and not specifying the three alone. That would have been a shrewd move on the part of Jayalalithaa."
PMK founder S. Ramadoss thanked Jayalalithaa for passing the resolution and urged her to exert pressure on the president to agree to the same.
He also urged MPs from Tamil Nadu to voice their support on the matter.