Millennium Post

Government dithers on terror

The unexplained six-year-long stay on the execution of terrorist Afzal Guru who had masterminded the 2001 attack on the Parliament building, and the pussyfooting now on the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of 26/11 terrorists attack, is a sad commentary on India’s authority as a nation state. I would comment on Kasab’s case first as the final judicial verdict upholding his death penalty has come quite recently, on 29 August, and his ‘mercy petition’ to the President of India—a mercy that in all likelihood militates against his philosophy of jihad­ – has moved to Rashtrapati Bhavan now.

About Kasab, the hangman’s noose is well-deserved just for his serial perjury, not to speak of his participating in a gruesome orgy of manslaughter in Mumbai that claimed 166 lives. This illiterate yokel, handpicked by the Fagins of Lashkar-e-Toyaiba into a Lahore murder factory, denied as long as he could that he’d been sent from Pakistan. When his cover was blown, he said on oath that he was just crazy to act in Bollywood and was sauntering around Juhu beach when policemen rounded him up and framed him in the 26/11 case. Within minutes of his fortuitous arrest near VT, close to where he had first struck by mowing down innocent commuters, cops recovered from his possession incontrovertible evidence of his criminal action and intent. He also narrated, before video cameras, much of the diabolic preparations that had gone on in Pakistan behind his hellish mission. These narrations are under due process of law, and remain water-tight evidence.

Yet it took four years to have the man convicted because of the extreme leniency that our institutions, including the courts, are showing in coping with terror. The honourable Supreme Court took more than a year to uphold Kasab’s death penalty in a Special Court, subsequently confirmed by the Bombay High Court. Between courts, his case got clogged in government departments too. Nor is it unlikely that sending the Pakistani terrorist to gallows was used as a bargaining chip at some point in the Indo-Pakistan diplomatic negotiations. If it were so, it is downright reprehensible because it will give the merchants of terror –
in this case –freedom to acquire leveraging ability. It is also in stark contrast with the ‘zero tolerance’ that our own war on terror has been officially promised to be.

It is good news that Kasab’s file has been fast tracked before the President who already has as many as 11 mercy petitions in his in-tray. But a much worse instance of governmental waffling is the mysterious longevity of Afzal Guru, the man who hosted and conspired the Lashkar and Jaish-e-Muhammad joint attack on Parliament in 2001. Like Kasab’s, Guru’s trial also left nothing to chance. He was sentenced to death by the Delhi High Court as far back as 2006. And then began the politics of punishment. While professional bleeding hearts like Arundhati Roy and Praful Bidwai, for reasons never quite clarified, complained that the trial was wrong and the accused was denied natural justice, politicians like Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress and Mehbuba Mufti of the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party predictably unleashed their ‘vote bank’ politics by clamouring for clemency to him.

The government, it seems, acted in a manner quite indifferent to the judicial verdict. Or else why would it take four years, from 2006 to 2010, for the Union Ministry to request the President to reject Afzal Guru’s mercy petition? However, things turned out to be even murkier when it transpired that the so-called petition had not even reached the President’s office. It is a year later, in August 2011, that the Home Ministry finally dispatched Afzal Guru’s plea to Raisina Hill with a firm request to the President, Pratibha Patil, recommending death penalty. On 7th September 2011, Guru’s claim of innocence was shattered by a high intensity bomb blast killing 11 people near Delhi High Court. The Islamist terror group that owned its responsibility claimed it was in retaliation to Guru’s death sentence. It is ironic that so much blood-shedding was caused for the life of a person whom the bleeding hearts were championing. Besides, Guru has not been executed yet nor is it known if justice in this case is still a pawn in Indo-Pak diplomacy, or even in the local elections in, say, Gujarat.

There are two issues that emerge out of the government’s dithering over being firm on terror. First, it is a grossly mistaken strategy to use arrested and proved terror criminals as bargaining chips for either diplomacy or local politics. On the contrary, it may become a huge incentive for foreign and home-grown merchants of death to chalk out more and more gruesome adventures, without indeed having to be prepared to embark on the uncertain journey to the next world, however filled it may be with luscious fruits and enrapturing houris. The argument that capital punishment is not a deterrent for heinous crimes may be tenable in impulsive murders, like in domestic violence, but has little substance in pre-meditated murder or manslaughter, which terrorist attacks invariably are. In fidayeen operations, for that matter, the perpetrator of the attack is himself his executioner, but, in poor places like Pakistan and northern India, only a small fraction of terrorists are suicide-attackers. Most of them, on the contrary, are the ilk of Kasab who’d no hope in life, his father being a poor man selling dahi bhalla from a pushcart in Lahore, and so he settled for a compensation of around $3,500 before starting on his voyage. It is well-known that the 26/11 team were bamboozled into believing that they might well sail back after the operation.

‘Abolition’ [of capital punishment] is now the standard practice of the developed world. It is but natural, the rule of law having made deep inroads in these societies. But countries like India are in a trap. They’ve human rights activists aplenty crying for abolition. What they don’t have, or can’t afford, are respect for the law, and measures to pre-empt crime, including reliable surveillance. It has resulted in over 200 cases where accused have been sentenced to death but the executioner is idle because there is no order. Abolition or no abolition is a matter that Parliament must decide, and very fast, but after taking the social fallout into consideration. Capital punishment was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1964 but homicide rate has zoomed since then and the voice to bring it back is getting strident by the day.

Finally, a word about criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani who was greatly pained by what was in his judgment judicial murder of Kehar Singh, an accused in the Indira Gandhi assassination case. Jethmalani is in favour of the President giving Guru not just clemency but commute the sentence as “he [President] has the power to disagree with” the Supreme Court. How can the President, who is titular head of the Executive, overrule the Supreme Court? A legal luminary like Jethmalani should instead have asked why an indirectly elected President must enjoy the power of commuting sentences under Art 72? He is no Harun al Rashod after all.
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