Killers of ex-Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi released after court order | News

Convicts are released after ‘satisfactory conduct’ in prison and serving 30 years behind bars.

The last co-conspirators jailed for the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 were released a day after an order by the country’s Supreme Court.

Gandhi, 46, was killed by a female suicide bomber at an election rally in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu in a coup by Sri Lankan armed separatist group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

India’s Supreme Court allowed the release of the six convicts, citing their “satisfactory conduct” in jail and the fact that they had already spent more than 30 years behind bars.

Three of the six – Nalini Sriharan, her husband Murugan and Santhan – were released on Saturday from two jails in Vellore, about 140 km (87 miles) from the regional capital Chennai, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

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“This is a new life with my husband and daughter. Thanks to the Tamil people who have supported me for more than 30 years. I express my gratitude to the central and state governments,” Sriharan told NDTV channel after his release.

The others – Robert Bice, Jayakumar and Ravichandran – were released from Chennai and Madurai jails in the same state, local media reported.

Three of the six convicts released on Saturday who were initially sentenced to death had their sentences commuted.

Gandhi became India’s youngest Prime Minister after her mother and predecessor Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984.

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Rajiv Gandhi-File photo
Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi delivers a speech on May 16, 1991 [File: AFP]

The Gandhi dynasty has led the Congress party, which has dominated Indian politics for decades, and Rajiv’s widow Sonia remains the organisation’s most powerful figure, while their son Rahul, 52, is seen as the main challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Last month, 80-year-old former minister Mallikarjun Kharge was elected its first non-Gandhi president in 24 years as the party tried to reverse its electoral slump.

Rajiv’s killing was seen as retaliation for his 1987 move to send Indian troops to Sri Lanka to disarm Tamil rebels. India lost more than 1,000 soldiers against the well-entrenched rebels before withdrawing its forces.

The Congress party condemned the court’s verdict as “totally unacceptable” and “totally wrong”.

In a tweet, senior member Jairam Ramesh said, “It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court has not acted in the spirit of India on this issue.

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India has a sizeable Tamil population, and state governments in Tamil Nadu have repeatedly called for the release of convicts.

Earlier this year, the court acquitted another accused in the murder, AG Pererivalan, who had earlier faced the death penalty, and the state’s Chief Minister M K Stalin, a key Congress ally, hugged him after his release.

Gandhi’s son has spoken for years about how he and his sister Priyanka forgave their father’s killers.

“We were very upset and hurt, we were very angry for years,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted Rahul as saying in 2018. But they have forgiven them, he said, “in fact, absolutely.”

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