A Political Post
We hear, three of the accused in the 'Rajiv Gandhi assassination case' are to be hanged. There are protests - by some extreme Tamil organizations, one of them calling itself 'Save Three Tamils Campaign' and some not so extreme ones (as is evidenced by the above Karunanidhi statement, made this very day). Some intellectuals have used this occasion to discuss basic questions on death penalty itself.
I have heard impassioned pleas against capital punishment from people ranging from Prince Myshkin to Albert Camus. I have neither the superior intellect to refute their arguments nor the supreme moral conviction to support them. And I don't know the rationale behind the present Indian practice of equating 'life imprisonment' with 14 years in jail. Whatever, I do have something to say on certain basic aspects of the present case.
First of all, this 'Rajiv Gandhi Assassination' of 1991 was not the clinical taking out of one man by his enemies. Most online sources I could consult say at least 15 people were blown up with Rajiv and over 40 injured, many of them crippled for life. The way the dead are listed by our media is very typically Indian - Rajiv Gandhi, the suicide bomber Dhanu, the mysterious photographer Haribabu, congress worker Latha and her daughter Kokila and then ... who else? The hoi polloi are there only to make up the numbers!
Here is one of the very very few pages which has cared to list the names of victims: http://www.sangam.org/PIRABAKARAN/Part25.htm
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. 17 others also lost their lives, including Dhanu (the alleged woman assassin) and Hari Babu (the freelance photographer). The names of other 15 are as follows: P.K.Gupta (personal security officer to Rajiv Gandhi), Latha Kannan, Kokilavani, Iqbal (superintendent of police), Rajakuru (inspector of police), Edward Joseph (inspector of police), Ethiraj (sub-inspector of police), Sundaraju Pillai (police constable), Ravi (commando police constable), Dharman (police constable), Chandra (woman police constable), Santhani Begum, Darryl Peter, Kumari Saroja Devi and Munuswamy
To those who interpret the blast in racist terms - a burst of Tamil fanaticism or Tamil retaliation against North Indian thuggery or whatever (and there are many interpretors, judging from the comments that have piled up on our newspaper websites(*)) - very sorry, the fact remains that almost every single victim was Tamil. Whatever happened at Sriperumbudur in 1991 was A MASSACRE AND MUTILATION of men and women from our Country and ought to be seen as just that and nothing else. 'Rajiv Gandhi assassination' may be a convenient name for the case but it should not make us forget or deem as less important for a moment the deaths of Iqbal, Chandra and all those who were killed in the line of duty or the loss suffered by the family of Latha and Kokila, a loss that is (even if one goes by perverse arithmetic) exactly twice that suffered by the Gandhis or the suffering inflicted on those who were maimed. I beg to add, for all the nobility attributed to her gesture, Sonia Gandhi's public 'pardoning' of the crime and intervening in the case on behalf of some of the accused further devalues those unsung lives snuffed out or otherwise ruined by her husband's 'assassins'.
I am not qualified to say what punishment the surviving murderers deserve; that depends on their degree of involvement and much else (**). But the above linked page clearly says most of the conspirators did meet very violent ends (That includes the Seven who were cornered in Bangalore and consumed cyanide. 20 years back, our media had shown far greater alacrity in naming them than their victims so let me leave the 7 as just a bloody number). So, even if one is all for death penalty, Fate has ensured that justice has indeed substantially been done.
Note added 10 days after: A few years back, Priyanka Gandhi visited Nalini, one of the assassins now lodged in jail and remarked to the media: "I discovered Nalini has suffered more in life than us!" Today, I saw this gesture of 'forgiveness' highlighted in a Malayalam weekly. As always, everybody is silent about the dependents of the cops who died protecting Priyanka's father.
(*) - and it is about time reader comments on all our online news pages are seriously monitored. I am all for strict censorship in this particular domain.
(**) in Indian law, life = 14 years and the trio have been behind bars for 20 years, so someone could argue that they have already been more than hanged.