It is clearly not a good time to step into the beleaguered shoes of Omar Abdullah, who is grappling with a deeply divided politics, one that is emanating from the grief-stricken Valley and the other that the government at the centre has laid out for him to quietly follow. Although Abdullah had initially distanced himself from the execution, saying that he was informed only some 12 hours before the hanging took place on Saturday, 9 February at 8 am, he had been emotionally affected enough to come up with his public comment about UPA’s ‘pick and choose’ policy while executing Parliament attack mastermind Mohammed Afzal Guru. This allegation of dishing out selective hanging to death row inmates stems from Omar’s desperate articulation of an overall sense of disenchantment that the Kashmir Valley had been feeling for a while. Surely Omar, who heads the National Conference, a key UPA ally, is aware that paying lip-service to just any one of the parties, the bereaved Kashmiri Muslims and the jubilating Indian public at large outside the mourning state, alone, could prove catastrophic to not only his own political career, but also to the imperative of maintaining peace in the northern state.
Despite Omar’s pointing out of the fact that other death row convicts, such as the assassins of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, or that of the former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, have, till date, escaped being sent to the gallows, it was not at all an eye for an eye kind of a remark. He is merely aggrieved at the plight of the helpless family, which wasn’t allowed to have a last meeting with the late inmate of Tihar Jail, or at the fact that they received the letter informing them of his impending execution two days after the actual hanging had taken place. However, this expression of empathy is very much in keeping with his position as the chief minister of the state that might have become the site of a riotous violence, had he not appeased the boiling sentiments of the people of Sopore or Baramullah with so many words. Omar’s sensitive job has been about walking a tightrope between maintaining peace in the state, not allowing the secessionists to make Guru’s hanging a peg to whip up separatist passions, while also keeping the centre happy. Whether the collective conscience of a nation could be any different from that of a state chief minister functioning under such duress is surely a matter of individual interpretation.