After Ajmal Kasab’s execution, the focus is back on Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, who is among a dozen death row inmates whose mercy petitions are shuttling between North Block and Rashtrapati Bhavan.
President Pranab Mukherjee has sent back seven petitions, including Guru’s, to North Block, ostensibly to ascertain if home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and his predecessor P Chidambaram were on the same page while rejecting them.
It wasn’t clear why a change of guard at the home ministry — and not the government — should prompt reconsideration. In mercy pleas, the home minister’s recommendation is the advice of the council of ministers and not just an individual.
Shinde declared on Wednesday he wouldn’t sit on Guru’s file. “I will clear Afzal Guru’s file within 48 hours of its receipt,” he said.
Guru filed for clemency in 2006, two years before Kasab and his associates unleashed a wave of terror in Mumbai. But it was only in August 2011 that the home ministry advised Rashtrapati Bhavan to reject his petition.
On the other hand, it took the ministry just about a month to finalise its view on Kasab’s case since it was much simpler, government sources said.
Unlike Kasab, a Pakistani national, Guru hails from Jammu and Kashmir and has the Kashmiri separatists batting for him. The J&K police have often indicated to the government that Guru, in death, could become a rallying point for the separatists.
The state's chief minister, Omar Abdullah, and the Centre's interlocutor for J&K, Dilip Padgaonkar, have expressed this very fear several times, particularly with security officers drawing parallels to the strong reaction in the Kashmir Valley in the 1980s to the hanging of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhatt.
Government sources, however, indicated there has been a sea change in the political environment since then. During UPA 1, the government worked overtime to earn the trust of the minority communities. That could help it decide on Guru's plea.