Politics and the Death Penalty

Your editorial “Abolish Capital Punishment” (EPW, 3 September 2011) rightly points out the lack of sustained nationwide campaign for the abolition of this barbaric practice in our country. All the 26 accused in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case, convicted and sentenced to death by the TADA special court at Chennai were acquitted by the apex court from the charges under TADA. Only seven among them were found guilty of the murder under Sections 302 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1999 and the death sentence against four of them was confirmed. The mercy petitions of the four were considered by the DMK government which recommended to the governor of the state that death sentence against Nalini (A1 in this case) should be commuted to life imprisonment in 2000. Though it rejected the mercy petitions of the other three they were sent to the union government with a request to forward the same for the kind consideration of the president of India. Since the Rajiv Gandhi murder was a very sensitive issue exploited by all the major political players both at the state and the centre (the main beneficiary of the political development in the wake of the assassination was Jayalalithaa), any bourgeois politician like M Karunanidhi (whose government had paid dearly, for the sin of its alleged links with the LTTE, though the pro-LTTE forces in Tamil Nadu and abroad consider him as the betrayer of the Tamil cause) could not have done more at that time. Despite all the cynicism characteristic of our politicians, Karunanidhi could at least ensure that the mercy petitions were not rejected by the president of India so long as his party had a stake at the centre and the state.

Now that Jayalalithaa is in the saddle, the centre probably wanted to test the “sincerity” in her new-found commitment to the cause of Eelam Tamils with which, unnecessarily and unfortunately, the question of commuting the death sentence of the three has been entangled by both the pro- and anti-LTTE forces.

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