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Assassins of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi walk free after court order

Convicts are released citing their ‘satisfactory conduct’ in prison and the three decades they have already served behind bars.

The latest accomplices jailed for the 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were released from prison a day after the country’s Supreme Court ordered their release.

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

India’s highest court allowed the release of the six convicts, citing their “satisfactory conduct” in prison and the fact that they had already served more than three decades behind bars.

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Three of the six, Nalini Sriharan, her husband Murugan and Santhan, were released from two prisons in Vellore, some 140 km (87 miles) from the regional capital Chennai, on Saturday, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

“It is a new life with my husband and my daughter. I thank the Tamils ​​for supporting me for more than 30 years. I thank both the state and central government,” Sriharan told NDTV channel after his release.

Local media said the others, Robert Pais, Jaikumar and Ravichandran, were released from prisons in Chennai and Madurai city in the same state.

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

Gandhi became India’s youngest prime minister after his mother and predecessor, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

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file photo of Radjiv Gandhi
Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi gives a speech, May 16, 1991 [File: AFP]

The Gandhi dynasty has been at the helm of the Congress Party, which has dominated Indian politics for decades, and Rajiv’s widow, Sonia, remains the organization’s most powerful figure, while his son Rahul, 52, is seen as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s main challenger.

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

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Rajiv’s assassination was seen as a response to his decision to send Indian forces to Sri Lanka in 1987 to disarm Tamil rebels. India lost more than 1,000 men against the well-entrenched rebels before withdrawing its troops.

The Congress Party has condemned the court’s decision as “totally unacceptable” and “completely wrong.”

“It is very unfortunate that the Supreme Court has not acted in accordance with the spirit of India on this issue,” the party said, tweeting a statement from senior member Jairam Ramesh.

India has a significant Tamil population of its own, and Tamil Nadu state governments have repeatedly called for convicts to be released.

Earlier this year, the court released AG Perarivalan, another convict involved in the murder who had previously faced execution, and was embraced by the current chief minister of state, MK Stalin, a key ally of Congress, after his release.

Gandhi’s son has spoken over the years about how he and his sister Priyanka had forgiven their father’s killers.

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“We were very upset and hurt and for many years we were quite angry,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted Rahul as saying in 2018. But they had since been forgiven, he said, “completely, in fact.”

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