Monday 21st Jan 2019
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Hanging of Afzal Guru Where rule of law meets political expediency?

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If he was guilty, he has paid for. And if trapped, Allah will elevate his soul to high place. We can only wish his kin to remain calm and cool as Afzal was in his last moments, observes SYYED MANSOOR AGHA.

Political astuteness of our Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was questioned when he stated in Congress conclave in Jaipur on 20 January that “training camps of both the BJP and the RSS are promoting “Hindu” terrorism. Whether it is Samjhauta blast or Mecca Masjid blast or Malegaon blasts, they plant bombs everywhere and blame it on the minorities.” There was a furore in the media. A section welcomed his “brave stance towards saffron terror” while Sangh Parivar was on tantrums demanding his head. Nobody could guess the motif behind the shrewd move of UPA strategists that stumped Sangh on terror plank, so dear to the Hindutva proponents, before elections 2014. The very next day, he did what nobody could anticipate after his Jaipur statement.

On 21 January, as Mr. Shinde returned from Jaipur, he sent his recommendation to hang Afzal Guru to the President. President Pranab Mukherjee signed on the dotted lines. The conscience of previous two presidents, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Mrs. Pratibha Devi Patil had not allowed them to reject the mercy plea filed by Tabassum, young wife of 46-year old Guru, and orphan their 12-year old son. Mr. Shinde received the file back on 3 February and forwarded it next day to the authorities to execute Guru in great secrecy. Hanging was scheduled for 8 February, Friday but fearing eruptions of angry reactions after Friday prayers, it was postponed for Saturday, 9 February.

Tihar Jail authorities posted a letter informing his family about rejection of mercy plea after the midnight of Friday, pretty four days after they had received the orders. Consequently, the letter reached his home two days after his execution. Before the final act was done, the entire valley was virtually converted into a jail by imposing indefinite curfew, which is still in force till date (Friday, 15 February).

Afzal’s hanging brought cheers to the same Saffronite brigades, indicted by Mr. Shinde in Jaipur, same elements whose propaganda machines infused and abated “collective conscience” of the nation against minorities blaming them for “jihadist” terror. This propaganda machine, under the influence of Sangh is so strong that Congress leadership took no time to dissociate from Mr. Shinde’s “Hindu” terror remark and Mr. Shinde himself stooped to buy peace with BJP, which has declared a boycott of the Home Minister in Parliament. And the UPA claims hangings have nothing to do with politics.

When the Union Home Minister was confronted with the question, “Why is it that you are in such a rush to execute one and not execute the others?” he looked the other way. We remember Mr. Shinde started his career as Sub Inspector in Maharashtra Police and he is silent on killing of six Muslims in “excessive” and “direct firing” of the Maharashtra Police, in Dhule. Where is the fair play? And where isn’t the politics of suppressing a particular community?

Rejecting the demand of Guru’s kin to return his body, provisions of jail manual are being cited which says among other things that “a human body... cannot be the property of anyone”, and that, “a prisoner’s body can be handed over to the family or friends only if a claim is made before it has been disposed of”. Even before disposal, the jail authorities can turn down a request for claiming a body “if there are grounds for supposing that the prisoner’s funeral will be made the occasion for a demonstration”.

The Government wants to follow the rule book. However, it forgets that Jail Manual makes it mandatory to inform kin before execution and give them a chance of last meeting. The provision was flouted at will. Sending information by speed post was to make mockery of law. It was posted barely 32 hrs before the execution as an ordinary message. Nobody can anticipate that it will reach a remote rural destination like Seer Jagir (Sopore) in such a short time. Obviously this intention was to keep secrecy to avoid any appeal to the court after the rejection of mercy petition. The fact was admitted by Mr. Shinde in his press conference on 9 February.

Omar Abdullah has rightly questioned the rationale of informing the family through post saying the reliability of the medium itself was questionable. “As a human being, I find it very difficult to reconcile myself to the fact that we executed a person who was not given the opportunity to see his family for the last time. If in this day and age, we are relying on speed post to inform a family that their loved one is going to be executed, there is something seriously wrong.”

Responding to Omar’s statement, “Why is it that you are in such a rush to execute one and not execute the others?” Mr. Shinde’s plea was, “the executions of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who killed former Chief Minister of Punjab Beant Singh, and Santham, Murugan and Perarivalan, involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, have been stayed by courts.”

Secular Democracy (Editorial, 13 February) rightly noted, “Unlike in these cases, the rejection of the mercy petition of Afzal Guru was followed by his instant hanging. In all these cases, political considerations have determined the implementation of the judicial verdicts.

“In Tamilnadu, the state assembly has passed a resolution asking for the commutation of the death sentence of the three persons. The Akali Dal led government of Punjab has opposed the execution of the death sentence in the Punjab cases. There was a bandh observed in Punjab against the hanging of Rajoana, after which the execution was stayed by the union government.”

Had Omar Abdullah dared to pass such a resolution in J&K Assembly, the story may have changed today, and the entire Valley had not been gagged as done after 9 February.

All liberal and secular minded people have raised serious questions on selective hanging in a secret manner. That law may have allowed hanging but was justice done is a serious question. The Supreme Court of India had also acknowledged in its judgment that there is no proof that Afzal Guru was a member of a terrorist group, and the evidence against him was only circumstantial. The Apex Court, however, concluded that it is necessary to hang Afzal to “satisfy the collective conscience of Indian society.” Finally Afzal was hanged.

Nobody can buy the argument of Mr. Shinde that hanging was not a political decision. And if it was not, it should have been. As Radha Kumar, a member of Interlocutor group on Kashmir headed by Dilip Padgonkar pointed out, “The larger political question is whether, and in what ways, the government factored in the impact that Afzal Guru’s hanging was likely to have in Jammu and Kashmir.” There is only one answer. Elections 2014 are the driving force and repercussions on Kashmir peace process are not. The Government can handle one way or the other inevitable protests; but answer to the question, how to deal with the longer term, and equally predictable, consequences, is absent.

Radha Kumar wrote, “The preventive steps the government took indicate that they were aware there would be protests. If so, they must have considered whether a clampdown would help in resolving longer term question of consequences on Kashmir? Certainly, they have plenty of evidence on how it has been counter-productive in all but the immediate term, both from the 1990s and from 2010-11. My conclusion is that they decided there was no other strategy — in other words, they made the decision first and then decided how best to mitigate its impact in J&K.

“We can only speculate on what impact this decision would have had, had it been executed in the backdrop of a full-fledged peace process. It would most likely have caused a severe setback to talks with the Hurriyat and allied groups. More likely, though, the decision would not have been taken if there had been a full-fledged peace process, in order to avert a setback. Instead, Afzal Guru would have spent the rest of his life in jail.”

Dileep Padgaonkar wrote in his blog, “Many questions have been raised about the hanging of Afzal Guru and many answers have been forthcoming on each one of them. Did he receive a fair trial? Was due process followed in letter and spirit to the very end? Why was his execution delayed for eight years? What were the compulsions to hang him now? Why did his execution get precedence over the assassins of Beant Singh and Rajiv Gandhi who were also sentenced to death? Is it right to send someone to the gallows to appease the ‘collective conscience’ of the nation? Is the continuance of the death sentence on our statute books not a blot on a vibrant democracy such as ours?

“These factors are all the more significant in the context of Jammu and Kashmir. The situation in the state has a direct bearing not only on our sovereignty, security and territorial integrity but also, more importantly, on the very idea of India.”

Padgaonkar pointed out, “Maqbhool Bhat, who was hanged 29 years ago this...., acquired the halo of an icon overnight. The same fate awaits Afzal Guru...”

Reacting on Afzal’s hanging, a former chief of Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) AS Dulat has said, “It has the potential to take the valley several years back. I was not expecting this to happen.”

Afzal was quite calm and cool when informed that the inevitable has come. In the morning of 9 February, he offered his Fajr prayer, and when he was being taken to gallows, he presented a picture of, “O your serene soul! Return to your Lord, well pleased and well pleasing. And enter among my servants and enter My Jannah.” Death is inevitable. During his 12 years in jail he learnt the art of cultivating a serene soul. If he was guilty, he has paid for. And if trapped, Allah will elevate his soul to high place. We can only wish his kin to remain calm and cool as Afzal was in his last moments.

[email: syyedagha@hotmail.com]



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