Indian fishermen
Indian fishermen Prasad, Akaztaz, Wilson, Langlet, Emerson, respectively who had been sentenced to death by a Sri Lankan Court on charges of smuggling drugsIANS

The five Indian fishermen, who were spared the gallows in Sri Lanka, returned to Chennai late on Thursday, bringing a heap of praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose intervention is said to have saved their lives.

The fishermen were released by Sri Lankan authorities on Wednesday and returned to India in an Air India flight. They will return to their homes in Rameswaram after three years amidst much fanfare and celebrations.

The episode has earned the Bharatiya Janata Party rare praise from rivals in Tamil Nadu, such as the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and Dravidar Kazhagam among others.

"It is our duty to thank the Prime Minister for respecting the sentiments of Tamil Nadu people and taking direct action,"Modi critic and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavann was quoted as saying by The New Indian Express.

"The act of Narendra Modi government in respecting the sentiments of Tamil Nadu people deserves appreciation and gratitude," Dravidar Kazhagam president K Veeramani, another BJP rival, also said.

DMK leader M Karunanidhi had also earlier expressed appreciation for the Modi government's efforts.

The timing couldn't have been better for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is seeking to gain ground in the state in the absence of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa ahead of the 2016 polls.

However, some political leaders have accused the BJP of trying to take credit, especially after the fishermen were first flown to Delhi for a debriefing before being sent home to Tamil Nadu.

"The BJP is trying to claim credit for the return of the fishermen and score over Tamil Nadu political parties," MH Jawaharullah, an Opposition legislator who represents Rameswaram, told NDTV.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy was among the first to announce a breakthrough in the case that had led to unrest in Tamil Nadu, when he tweeted, "Namo and Rajapaksa spoke on the phone yesterday&agreed to process papers & transfer 5 fishermen convicted to Indian jail. I am vindicated!"

A major diplomatic controversy had broken out after a Colombo court sentenced five fishermen – Emerson, P Augustus, R Wilson, K Prasath and J Langlet – to death on 30 October after they were convicted of smuggling drugs.

The fishermen were arrested on 28 November 2011, by the Sri Lankan Navy on charges of narcotics smuggling.