The Supreme Court commuted the death sentence given to four Rajiv Gandhi killers to life imprisonment. That was perhaps a contradiction of the “eye for an eye” conception of justice. This may be construed as the quality of mercy. But what is astonishing is that J. Jayalalitha’s AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu has taken the bewildering decision of setting them free. The apex court’s 2012 ruling states that a convict undergoing life imprisonment is expected to be in custody till death. This is in line with the recent ruling by the UK’s Court of Appeal that life should mean life in the case of more heinous crimes. Surely, the assassination of a head of state falls under that category. Jayalalitha is cashing in on the ethnic element to pander to populism. Of course, she should be aware that as a provincial satrap, she cannot act without consulting the Centre. The state seems to be overassertive in the Centre versus state relations. The Tamil Nadu CM has announced her decision nevertheless to appeal to the Tamil vote bank before the general election. Both the DMK and the AIADMK have played the same card before. For instance, camps have been set up in the state for LTTE militants. The purpose was to drag the Centre in the Sri Lankan civil war.
The DMK wants capital punishment to be abolished. This view has been expressed in several western countries. But can it apply to such crimes as terrorist outrages? Sidney Silverman abolished capital punishment in the UK decades ago. But it has now been made clear in that country that in extreme cases, life means the rest of a convict’s life. It was reported years ago that Sonia Gandhi herself said there was no point in hanging the assassins but that was said in grief. Rahul Gandhi has bitterly observed that if such a decision can apply to a PM’s murder, what of the aam aadmi!