Should Mohammad Afzal involved in the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 be hanged? For the last several weeks a virulent debate has been going on and had there been no appeal against the death sentence pronounced by the Supreme Court, the man would have been hanged on October 20, and the matter would have ended there. But the issue has been referred to the President and he is taking his own time.
Incidentally, on September 26, 2006 the Pakistan Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of twelve persons found guilty of involvement in two assassination attempts on President Musharraf in 2003?and the Indian media and our secularists have been remarkably silent about it. Twelve Pakistanis?presumably all of them Muslims?are sentenced to death for their ?involvement? in an assassination attempt on President Musharraf, but there is a tremendous outcry among our liberals and secularists against the death sentence passed on a man who was involved not just in the assassination of one man, but in an attack on the Indian Parliament. Had the attack succeeded it is hard to imagine how many MPs and ministers would have been killed.
That obviously does not matter to the likes of former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah who wants the death sentence cancelled. As he told the media: ?You want to hang him? Go ahead and hang him. But the consequences of hanging him must also be remembered?. He was referring to the murder of Justices Neelkanth Katju, who had sentenced a terrorist Maqbool Bhatt to death. Justice Katju was killed by terrorist revanchists, in the 1980?s. What Farooq Abdullah was doing was political blackmail. An Indian Court cannot sentence a terrorist involved not just in the killing of one person but in an attack on the very citadel of Indian democracy, the Parliament House.
Commenting on another case, the Supreme Court ruled that the powers of pardon cannot be exercised on the basis of caste, creed, religion or political affiliations. But Farooq Abdullah was clearly pleading for the exercise of clemency in the name of religion. His argument was that the hanging of Afzal ?would destroy Hindu-Muslim relations?. Why should it?
Farooq cited the Mumbai blasts, following which ?thousands of Muslims were put in jail to extract information from them.? Thousands? Where did he get the figure from? Farooq Abdullah probably does not know that when Tipu Sultan suspected Roman Catholics of South Kanara of scheming with the British to overthrow him, he had some 1,20,000 Catholics caught and transported to Srirangapatam to be put in dungeons, apart from hanging a few of them in Mangalore. And he should also check how many Muslims were publicly hanged following the 1857 rebellion. In the case of Mohammad Afzal, the Supreme Court has been over-cautious, a fact which even Farooq Abdullah has conceded when he said that ?the evidence put forward before the judges has been correctly said (analyzed)?. But we have a class of intellectuals in India who judge terrorists strictly on the basis of religion.
Thus Outlook (October 30) carried an article by Arundhati Roy going into sixteen page and her argument is that she is not writing out of ignorance but after reading ?three thick volumes of judgments of the trial court, the High Court and the Supreme Court? and an ?excellent book called December 13th: Terror Over Democracy?. That is very clever. Roy should know that any advocate can pick and choose points under anything under the sun to make a case. But forget the media: What do people think of the death sentence? India Today (October 30) reports and AC-Nielsen-ORG-MARG poll conducted in ten cities in 1,105 street interviews that clearly shows that the people at large want the death sentence to be carried out. Asked whether Afzal, convicted for the terrorist attack on Parliament should be hang, 78 per cent said yes, he should while 21 per cent said No. Asked whether the Government should be allowed to reverse or alter judicial verdicts, the answer was 58 per cent against the very idea. In other words, the nation is strongly in favour of meting the highest punishment on Afzal.
But think of what Arundhati Roy has to say on the subject. She says: ?To invoke the ?collective conscience of society? to validate ritual murder, which is what the death penalty is, skates precariously close to valoring lynch law?. And for good measure she adds: ?It'schilling to think that this has been laid upon us not by predatory politicians or sensation-seeking journalists (though they too have done that) but as an edict from the highest court in the land?. One hopes that the respected Judges of the Supreme Court of India will take note of this remark. There is a tradition, as one writer recently pointed out, of forgiveness in this country. But as the author, Pankaj Vohra (Hindustan Times) put it correctly: ?Prithviraj Chauhan defeated Mohammad Ghori a dozen times and forgave him each time. But after the one battle Ghori won, he ordered Prithviraj'sblinding.? Vohra'sargument is that forgiveness does not often pay, and India should not show itself up as a Soft State by granting reprieve to those who endangered its sovereignty?.
The Supreme Court'sjudgment is anything but harsh. Imagine what would have happened if the terrorist thugs had had access to the Parliament? Can one imagine how many MPs would have been killed? Importantly, what would the families of those Indian security guards who were shot, feel if the President shows ?magnanimity?? Firebrand Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani led a procession in Srinagar shouting ?Dr Mohammad Afzal Guru, We are Proud of You?. That says it all Geelani probably does not read newspapers. On October 30, the Pakistani Army made an air strike on a pro-Taliban madrasa in Chenagai, near the Afghan border, killing more than 80 people undergoing terrorist training. Geelani should lead another procession attacking Musharraf.
The Indian Supreme Court has a high reputation for its judicious judgments. The sentence against Mohammad Afzal as responsible Indian media has pointed out, is correct. This has nothing to do with ?mob sentiment?, nor has the Supreme Court confused justice with revenge. The sentence was passed after due deliberation. Plotting against the state is not an ordinary crime. It is the worst crime that one can think of and the Supreme Court is right in its pronouncement. For ?liberals? to say that it will endanger Hindu-Muslim relations is stupid. Our secularists do not know what damage they themselves are doing with such thoughtless remarks, calculated to incite anti-Hindu hatred.