Rahul questions State’s move to release seven prisoners

The Union government and Tamil Nadu appeared set for a bruising constitutional showdown, with top national-level political leaders and government functionaries lining up against Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s promise to free seven convicts serving life sentences for the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

New Delhi’s apparent rejection of the promise came even as Rahul Gandhi lashed out at the Tamil Nadu government’s decision during a visit to his constituency, Amethi. “If the killers of the Prime Minister of this country are being released, what kind of justice should the common man expect,” Mr. Gandhi asked?

Tamil Nadu’s Cabinet, at an emergency meeting on Tuesday, said the State wanted the release of the prisoners, who earlier won commutation of their death sentences from the Supreme Court.

“If we don’t get their response in three days,” Ms. Jayalalithaa told the State Assembly, “we will release all convicts in accordance with the rights granted under Indian Constitution.”

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the government was yet to receive any communication from Tamil Nadu on the issue and would only take a decision after it was received.

A highly placed Home Ministry official said Tamil Nadu was only entitled to make a decision to remit the prisoners’ sentences after due process. “This three-day deadline is plain illegal,” he said.

National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, highly placed government sources said, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cautioning against the release of the LTTE-linked convicts.

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