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Executive decision vs electoral politics

The UPA government’s decision to hang Afzal Guru, the main accused of the 13 December 2001 attack on Parliament, on the morning of 9 February inside Tihar Jail, is a strategic move that is aimed at countering multiple allegations that have been hurled at the government for a while now. Firstly, the government has sent out a strong and unequivocal message that perpetrators of acts of terrorism carried out on Indian soil will not be tolerated and will be dealt with in the harshest of terms. The UPA has also effectively negated BJP’s repeated charges that it is soft on terror and has been dilly-dallying the final implementation of the death sentence that was the verdict handed out by Delhi High Court in 2003 and upheld by the Supreme Court of India in 2005. Because Afzal Guru’s hanging has followed that of Ajmal Kasab, who was hanged in Pune’s Yerwada Jail on 21 November 2012, the government’s track record on dealing with terrorism has been given a huge makeover. Although some murmurs about the sentence being implemented way too late have been heard, nevertheless, putting national security and maintenance of law and order, particularly in Kashmir where this has been an extremely sensitive issue, above and beyond everything else, has been rightly lauded by all the political parties, albeit the secrecy surrounding the executive decision has been criticised by sections of the media and the civil society. While death penalty continues to be a matter of passionate debate, the double executions of Kasab and Guru were both cleared by President Pranab Mukherjee within three months of each other, thus marking the government’s attempt to provide a closure of sort to the kith and kin of the victims of the two of the biggest terrorist attacks carried out inside the Indian territory.

However, these supposed decisions in the interest of national security are deeply entangled with electoral strategies and the unpopular policies that the UPA government has been trying to impose on the Indian public at large. For example, Kasab was hanged one day before the winter session of the Parliament was about to begin, in which the government passed the contentious FDI bill. Similarly, Guru has been put to death amidst a general wave of unrest amongst the Indian youth in the aftermath of the fatal Delhi gang rape of 16 December and a deep discontent amongst the middle and the poorer classes regarding recent measures such as slashing of subsidies in cooking gas cylinders, and hikes in rail fares and fuel prices. Moreover, to offset the Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s ‘Hindu Terror’ gaffe and to deflect the current media spotlight from Narendra Modi, nothing could have worked better that taking kudos for bringing justice to the family of the slain men who died defending the Parliament, the symbol of the nation’s sovereignty and integrity.
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