Death penalty was judicial verdict, delay, timing of execution political gaffe.
THE Union Government’s position that political considerations didn’t dictate the timing of Afzal Guru’s hanging failed to convince discerning citizens. Common refrain in the public discourse is that vote-bank politics dictated Government’s dithering and long delay in taking the legitimate follow up action after the Supreme Court verdict in the Parliament attack case. Opposition’s persistent hammering that the Government was soft on terror had a huge impact on public opinion. Concerned that going against the public mood on this sensitive issue may cost it heavily in the coming elections, the Government changed gears.
It fast tracked the process and hanged notorious terrorists Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru within a span of a few weeks. No death is an occasion for celebration. Yet people heaved a sigh of relief that those found guilty of attack on Mumbai and the Parliament House have been brought to justice. Justice SN Dhingra who as the designated judge for POTA court had handed down death sentence to Guru and two others said it was for the political executive to explain why it took so long to perform its duty in the matter. President, he says, doesn’t give clemency on his own. It is the Home Ministry which has to take a call. His view is that it is not the system but the political considerations of the Government that are responsible for inaction in a case where he found clinching evidence against Guru. The Government dithered to take the process forward against Guru who had conspired with Pakistani terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (J-e-M) to facilitate the dastardly attack on the Parliament House. He deserved no mercy. The undue delay in executing him encouraged separatists and their supporters to raise issues about the quality of evidence against the terrorist. A number of political pamphleteers and sections of media played dirty and created a false impression about the quality of evidence against the conspirator. Arundhati Roy went to the extent of saying he was “grievously wronged”. This gave space to pro-Pakistan and separatist elements in Kashmir to whip up emotions in the Valley to make it a political issue.
The Government did well to keep these operations under wrap. Those criticizing the Government for “unacceptable secrecy” pertaining to the hanging of the terrorists need to remember what happened in the case of Balwant Singh Rajoana condemned to death in the Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh assassination case. Extremists in Punjab raised a hue and cry over his imminent hanging. Chief Minister P S Badal rushed to Delhi to persuade the Government to postpone the hanging. The rejection of his clemency appeal by the President was challenged in the Supreme Court and is pending there. But for the secrecy in Guru’s hanging, it might have taken a similar route. Additionally, the Government was rightly concerned about the likely fallout in the Valley in the event of the leakage of the information about rejection of Guru’s mercy petition. The fact that the Valley remained under curfew for several days after the hanging is an indication of the extent of violence that might have erupted in Kashmir. The preventive measures taken by the Government may have only postponed the violence that separatists appear determined to unleash in the Valley in coming weeks and months. However, the Government shouldn’t have denied the courtesy to the condemned convict to meet his family before being taken to the gallows. Informing the family about the impending hanging by speed post shows lack of maturity and absence of ideas. The Government could well have brought the family to Delhi on some pretext and allowed them to meet the convict.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s statement that hanging of Guru might fuel the sense of alienation in the Valley and impact the psyche of younger generation of Kashmiri is provocative. It is bound to encourage separatist elements and terrorist groups operating with the help of their overground supporters in the Valley and across the borders. For quite some time, he has been publicly opposing the hanging to distance himself from the Centre on the issue. It is an act of self-preservation to give stability of his fragile administration. A Chief Minister’s job is not to talk about estrangement of the people but to address it. His belated advice to his ministers to keep in touch with people in their constituencies to defuse tensions is probably the outcome of the realisation of ill-effects of his earlier provocation. Major national parties and mainstream media have rapped the Chief Minister for his irresponsible outburst. Radha Kumar, a member of the Government appointed group of interlocutors on J&K, came out in support of the Chief Minister. In a sharp attack on the Union Government, she said the latter failed to factor in the fallout and long term consequences of the decision to hang the terrorist. Her perception is that the Government acted the way it did on the premise that it had no other option and argues that such a decision couldn’t have been taken if there was a full-fledged peace process on. In that case, she hoped, Guru would have spent the rest of his life in prison.
Supreme Court’s verdict in the Parliament attack case has been discussed threadbare in public forums, including media. No one questions the right of citizens to discuss court’s decisions on merits. There is nothing in the verdict to sustain the allegations, levelled by political pamphleteers, that the judiciary was “malicious, biased and influenced by public opinion” in handing down the death penalty to Afzal Guru. The apex court did a thorough job in sifting through arguments and arriving at the judgment that Guru was a part of the conspiracy to attack the Parliament. Even as it discarded Guru’s confessional statement on several technical grounds, the apex court found strong circumstantial evidence, corroborated by other evidence, to hold him guilty. The evidence that Afzal knew all the five terrorists who attacked the Parliament, was in constant touch with them and two other conspirators and recovery of incriminating material from hideouts helped the prosecution to nail him and convinced the court of his crime. “Short of participating in the actual attack, he did everything to set in motion the diabolic mission…There is sufficient circumstantial evidence to establish that Afzal was a part of the conspired crime of enormous gravity”, the Apex court ruled. Attributing bias to the judiciary in this case is too presumptuous and needs to be rejected.