In a major relief to the three condemned prisoners -- Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan -- the apex court spared them from gallows by commuting their sentence to life imprisonment on the ground of 11 years delay in deciding their mercy plea by the Centre.
The verdict marked the end of a long wait for the three, lodged in Vellore Central Prison. They were visibly happy when informed of the apex court decision, jail officials said.
The news was welcomed by several parties in the state and the Tamil Nadu assembly had passed a resolution demanding commutation of the death sentence, in an initiative by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa soon after coming to power in 2011.
However, state unit of the Congress indicated that the three had not been exonerated as was being portrayed by a section.
TNCC Chief B S Gnanadesikan said while court judgements should be accepted without any debate, some consideration be shown to the sentiments of families of those killed along with Rajiv Gandhi in the blast on May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur near here.
DMK chief M Karunanidhi, DMDK, MDMK, CPI and CPI-M were among those who hailed the apex court verdict.
Karunanidhi, who has been opposing death penalty, said he would be "doubly happy" if the three were released.
"I am immensely happy to know that they have got the right to live, he said.
Considering the court order and the time spent by the three behind bars, "the Centre and the state governments should immediately release them from prison," he demanded.
MDMK chief Vaiko, the most vocal votary of mercy for the three, hailed the "historic judgement," and called for steps for the release of the three.
"Considering the observations made by the Supreme Court removing Section 432 of CrPc, the state Government should consider release of all the three," Vaiko said urging Jayalalithaa to take steps in this regard.
DMDK founder and Leader of Opposition in Assembly Vijayakant also welcomed the verdict. With the three convicts having spent a large part of their youth in jail, they should be released on humanitarian grounds, he said.
While the state units of CPI and CPI (M) hailed the apex court order, the former also sought the release of the three.
Rights groups such as Amnesty International also welcomed the apex court verdict.
Gnanadesikan pointed out that none said the three were not guilty. "Such an effort is being carried out by some political parties and groups."
While their guilt was proved from lower courts to the supreme court, their mercy petition did not mention them to be not guilty. "They had petitioned for commutation of death sentence to life," he said.
Former CBI officer K Raghothaman, the Chief Investigating Officer in the case, said that he was "not annoyed" with the judgement.
"Personally, I am not annoyed at today's judgement.In fact, I am happy for them. Because, of the 41 accused persons, 15 prime accused died during the investigation and later. These are third category accused. What is the benefit of giving death sentence to these people now," he told PTI. He added he was against death penalty.
Perarivalan's mother Arputham Ammal thanked Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam for the verdict.
"I now have peace of mind," an emotional Arputham Ammal told the media soon after the court order came.
She claimed her son was innocent and was not involved in the assassination of the former Prime Minister, who was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber in 1991.