Afzal Guru’s hanging on Saturday revived the debate around the fate of people on death row for the assassinations of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh and other acts of terrorism.
Murugan alias Sriharan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan and AG Perarivalan alias Arivu — convicted for assassinating Gandhi on May 21, 1991 — have spent more than two decades behind bars.
In August 2011, the three had appealed against the rejection of their clemency petition by the then president Pratibha Patil. Their hanging scheduled for September 9, 2011, was subsequently stayed by Madras high court.
Since then, Madras HC is hearing the case even as a prayer is pending before the Supreme Court for further hearings to be held outside Tamil Nadu on the grounds that there is a groundswell of support for the three death row convicts in the state.
The trio wants their death sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.
Several political parties and Tamil groups have publicly favoured a reprieve for them. Chief minister J Jayalalithaa has sought commutation of their sentence.
DMK chief M Karunanidhi too has opposed the death sentence, saying, “If Rajiv Gandhi were alive today, he too would not want them to be hanged.”
Family members of 15 people killed along with Gandhi, however, are in favour of executing the three convicts, now lodged in Vellore central prison.
In Punjab, leaders of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Congress are uncomfortable talking about death row convicts Balwant Singh Rajoana and Devinder Singh Bhullar.
Rajoana was to hang on March 31, 2012, for his involvement in the assassination of Beant Singh on August 31, 1995.
Just two days before Rajoana’s execution, the Union home ministry had stayed the hanging.
The SAD-led Punjab government had prevailed upon the Centre that the execution would create law and order problems in the state. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee had later declared Rajoana a living martyr.
Bhullar was sentenced to death on August 25, 2001, for plotting terror attacks on Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini in 1991 and Youth Congress president MS Bitta in 1993, that caused several deaths. He was associated with the Khalistan Liberation Force.
In May 2011, the then president Pratibha Patil had rejected his clemency petition. Bhullar continues to be on death row because his petition is pending in the Supreme Court.
Asked about Rajoana and Bhular, Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma did not comment beyond saying the law must take its own course.
State Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has so far not reacted to the fate of Rajoana and Bhullar.