WILL the sentence against the prime accused in the attack on Indian Parliament be ever carried out? With an eye on the general elections a large chunk in the Congress and the ruling government is in favour of delaying taking a final call on carrying out the death sentence of Afzal , the prime accused in Parliament attack on December 13, 2001. Sources disclosed that a section in the Congress is of the opinion that “its vote bank, particularly among the minorities, might be disturbed if the death sentence is carried before the general polls.” This particular section also feels that depending on the circumstances, Lok Sabha polls could possibly be held this year. At this juncture Congress and Samajwadi Party reportedly are confident of a strong base among the minority vote bank, sources said. When asked about the developments on Afzal Guru’s mercy petition, the Home Minister, Mr Sushilkumar Shinde said that “I had to devote a considerable amount of time to the rape incident. I’ll take a decision. I’ll have to go into details. When the President has sent it again, I have to go deep into the case.” Afzal’s file has been shuttling between the President’s Secretariat and the MHA since the tenure of former President Pratibha Patil.
Afzal was convicted of conspiracy in the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament in which nine people were killed. In December 2002, he was sentenced to death by a Delhi court, and the Delhi High Court confirmed the sentence in October 2003. The death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in August 2005. While the sentence was scheduled to be carried out on October 20, 2006, it was put off as his wife filed a mercy petition.
On June 3, 2010, the Delhi government had sent its comments on Afzal’s mercy plea to the MHA after a dozen reminders were sent to it. The Delhi government had also recommended that Afzal’s mery plea be rejected. It was only on July 27, 2011, the Home Ministry sent Afzal’s file to the then President Pratibha Patil for a final decision after recieving comments from the Delhi government. The MHA recommended that the mercy petition filed on behalf of Afzal be rejected.
However, the case remained pending with the President’s secretariat during Patil’s tenure only to be returned by President Mukherjee last year. Shri Mukherjee wanted the new Home Minister, Mr Shinde to study the case and give his opinion.
Afzal’s mercy petition was sent back by President Pranab Mukherjee to Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde for re-consideration in November 2012. Shinde had promised to apply his mind to the case and give his recommendation soon. Incidentally, Afzal’s name is sixth on the list of 11 mercy petitions pending with the government.
In recent terrorist cases, the government has so far rejected the mercy pleas of Devinder Singh Bhullar and the three persons involved in assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Incidentally, both the convicts have approached Supreme Court challenging the decision saying there was inordinate delay in disposing off their mercy pleas. The latest case where the President rejected the mercy plea of a terrorist was of 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab who was hanged to death on November 21, 2012 within four years. It remains to be seen now whether MHA will change its opinion in Afzal’s case. Even if Shinde sends the file back to the President, the President is not bound by any time limit to take a decision. Apart from the reporterd vote bank politics, some of the allies of the Congress particularly National Conference and Samajwadi Party. While SP remained vague over the issue, the NC indicated that the convict “did not get a fair trial.”
Brief Background of Afzal
Mohammad Afzal is a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist convicted of the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament and was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of India in 2004. He was given a stay of execution and remains on death row. He belonged to Baramulla district of Jammu & Kashmir. He had completed the first year of his MBBS course and was preparing for IAS exams. However, he became a member of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front where he received terrorist training and became involved in terrorist activities. His native place is Sopore and he was doing a commission agency business, it was during this business venture that he came into contact with Tariq of Anantanag, who motivated him to join Jihad for liberation of Kashmir and assured him of financial assistance. Tariq introduced him to other millitants from Ghaziabad, Pakistan who were proclaimed offenders in Kashmir who further exhorted him to join the movement and apprised him of the mission to carry out attacks on important institutions in India like Parliament and Embassies and asked him to find a safe hideout for the ‘Fidayeens’ in Delhi.
On September 7, 2011, a high intensity bomb blast outside Delhi high court killed 11 people and left 76 others injured In an e-mail sent to a media house Harkat-ul-Jihad al- Islami, an Islamic fundamentalist organisation, owned responsibility for the attack and claimed the blast was carried out in retaliation to Parliament attack convict Afzal’s death sentence. “We own the responsibility for today’s blasts at Delhi high court. Our demand is that Mohammed Afzal’s death sentence should be repealed immediately else we would target major high courts and the Supreme Court of India.”, the email read.