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Millennium Post

Politics of execution

The insecurity of both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has turned Afzal Guru’s hanging into an unedifying game of political one-upmanship. What should have united the two parties and the rest of the country into a show of solidarity against terrorism has not only widened the gulf between them, but has also shown how cynical political calculations dominate every aspect of life in India, including one which poses a direct threat to the country’s integrity.

While the BJP must have realised that it has lost an emotive political plank for berating the Congress during the forthcoming assembly elections considering that the party’s former president used to call Afzal Guru the Congress’s ‘son-in-law’, the Congress knows that the execution cannot erase the fact of the long delay in carrying it out. After all, the Supreme Court had handed down the death sentence way back in 2002, a year after the terrorist group had attacked parliament, and the government had apparently decided to implement the verdict in 2006. But, the then Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, is said to have persuaded the centre to postpone the execution.

Azad’s compulsions are understandable considering that even today, opposition politicians in the valley, such as Mehbooba Mufti, have expressed their displeasure over the hanging. So have, predictably, those sympathetic to the militants like Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Even the chief minister, Omar Abdullah, has been displaying his nervousness by talking of further ‘alienation’ in the valley.

The fact that curfew has had to be imposed in parts of the valley, and mobile and Internet services curtailed, is evidence enough of the volatile nature of the decision. The issue has been further complicated by the suggestions by lawyers and others, including gadflies like Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy, that the convict did not get a fair trial. The Human Rights Watch has also described the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru as a ‘worrying trend’ since it is opposed to the death penalty.

In a hyperactive democracy like India’s, it is inevitable that problems will crop up  on all issues. But, it is up to the government to ensure that it is not deflected for too long from the avowed objective. ‘If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly’, as Macbeth said. Not too quickly, of course, for the customary procedures of considering clemency pleas have to be gone through. These underline the safety valves and humanism of a democracy. But, the delay should not be as long as a decade as it has been in the latest case.

Such procrastination cannot but expose the government to various charges. One of them is that it lost its nerve for fear of offending the community to which the convict belongs. If this was the reason in Afzal Guru’s case, it was a fatuous one since, apart from the Kashmiri militants, it is known that the vast masses of Muslims have no time for terrorism. Their dislike of the jehadis is as intense as that of other communities. Omar Abdullah’s fear, therefore, that Afzal Guru may acquire the ‘martyr’s tag’ is unfounded. The government’s delaying tactics can be regarded as a waste of time since they were based on false premises.

It should have also remembered that the BJP has long accused the government of being soft on terror, linking its supposed faintheartedness to the familiar saffron charge against the Congress of Muslim appeasement. It was up to the government, therefore, to deny any such grist to the BJP’s mill. Since politics is a matter of perception where toughness is widely admired, care has to be taken to avoid giving the impression of developing cold feet on any matter.

The other charge against the government is that it waited for a politically opportune moment to take the decision. This criticism has been made this time, too, on two counts – diverting attention from home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s remarks on Hindu terrorism and to score political points on the eve of the assembly elections and next year’s general election.

The second accusation cannot be brushed aside because the government had to do something to show that it had shed its earlier policy paralysis. Although this critique related mainly to the economic line, it also extended to other fields where prompt and purposeful action was called for, such as the passage of the Lokpal bill.

There is little doubt that the executions of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru in quick succession have indicated that the government may have shed its customary habits of inaction and indecision. It is too early to say whether this show of energy will be of any help to the Congress in the coming contests, but they will undoubtedly compel the BJP to look for other effective propaganda points. (IPA)
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