Editorial: Release of Rajiv case convicts troubling

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, November 14, 2022, 07:06 PM IST
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In this combo photo, (L-R) Sriharan alias Murugan, Nalini Sriharan and Santhan, convicts of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, in Vellore district | -PTI

The Supreme Court ordering the release of the remaining six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case has raised several troubling questions. In May this year, the apex court allowed remission of AG Perarivalan’s life sentence. It was this that the apex court cited as past precedent last week while freeing the six others who were convicted for the gruesome assassination of the former Prime Minister by a suicide bomber on May 21, 1991. The attack, which shook the nation, also claimed the lives of 15 others, eight policemen and seven civilians. The role of the LTTE, smarting over alleged atrocities by the Indian Peacekeeping Force during the Lankan civil war, in the suicide attack was conclusively proved.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was a direct assault on the integrity of India and the decision to free those involved in the conspiracy to kill him is baffling, to say the least. The twists and turns that this case has taken over the last 30 years is a pointer to the drawbacks in the investigative process. In 1998, a TADA court sentenced 26 of the 41 accused to death but a year later the Supreme Court freed 19 of them, upheld the death penalty for four and amended the death sentence to life terms for three of them. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s clemency petition in the case of Nalini Sriharan because she had a daughter was followed by the Tamil Nadu Government commuting her death sentence. The Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of the other three to life in 2014 on the grounds of inordinate delay in deciding their mercy petitions and this year set Mr Perarivalan free.

The top court has argued that the convicts had used their incarceration to study and improve themselves. In the Bilkis Bano case, too, the convicts were freed on grounds of good conduct. Such verdicts set a precedent, and more petitions seeking premature release of life convicts are bound to be filed. Only the Congress party has opposed the move. For the DMK and other parties in Tamil Nadu hailing the judgment is a politically expedient move given the appeal to Tamil sentiments. What would be unacceptable, however, is any public felicitation of these convicts. That would be an insult to the memory of Rajiv Gandhi and the 15 others who perished along with him on that tragic night in 1991.

Beautiful game, ugly row

The world’s second biggest sporting tournament to showcase the beautiful game is set to get underway in less than a week’s time. The event that attracts millions of fans and spectators every four years is, however, mired in controversy this time around. FIFA’s decision — more than a decade ago — to award the football World Cup to Qatar was dogged by allegations of corruption and bribery. The country was accused of paying FIFA officials $3.7 million in bribes to secure their backing, but it was cleared after a two-year investigation. It is the first country in the Middle East to host the tournament, but the odds have been against it. For one, the event is to be held in November-December instead of the customary summer dates because of the scorching heat in the Gulf nation; Qatar was also considered too small to hold an event of such magnitude. Moreover, charges are being levelled about atrocities against migrant workers hired to work on the infrastructure required for the tournament. Thousands are said to have died amid inhuman working conditions and though the controversial Kafala system of sponsorship has been scrapped, workers are still under duress from their employers.

Qatar's poor human rights record and its treatment of the LGBTQ community have come under question from several countries. With homosexuality criminalised in the Gulf nation, many countries have raised concerns about the safety of LGBTQ fans who will visit Qatar to witness the World Cup. The government has issued instructions to spectators to avoid alcohol in the stadiums, though designated areas have been set up to serve liquor. Strictures on public display of affection and an unofficial dress code are also in place. The World Cup is a celebration of a game that has enthralled people down the centuries. It is essentially a working-class sport synonymous with loud celebrations and fan frenzy. If Qatar puts a damper on this spirit of enjoyment, the game will be the loser.

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