A paramilitary soldier stands guard during curfew in Srinagar. The curfew was imposed following the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. AP/Mukhtar Khan
A major correction in public discourse is needed to pre-empt any negative fallout from Afzal Guru’s hanging in Kashmir.
Otherwise, we would end up with a repeat of what transpired in the aftermath of Maqbool Bhat’s 1984 journey to the gallows.
Public memory’s short. So it’s instructive to recall Indira Gandhi’s refusal to set Bhat free in exchange for an Indian diplomat, Ravinder Mhatre, kidnapped and murdered in Birmingham by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
Kashmir, where tension had been simmering for a while, exploded in the years that followed.
Like the Akali Dal did in the case of Balwant Singh Rajoana, the assassin of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, J&K CM Omar Abdullah wanted Guru’s sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
But the UPA has gone ahead and taken the risk in consonance with the broad political consensus that existed outside Kashmir.
In the forefront of the “hang Afzal” campaign was the BJP, which shares power with the Akalis in Punjab. The sense of alienation in Kashmir will be compounded if Rajoana gets immunity. Therefore, it is incumbent on the political class to help Omar maintain peace in the Valley.
Rather than welcoming the hanging, politicos should restrict themselves to expressing support for the execution. Never mind the provocation. A country brought up on the legacy of Gandhi must not celebrate a life taken.
Scoring brownie points on issues that are best left to the State (as distinct from the government of the day) could be a self-defeating exercise.
The Congress could have been guided by the desire to blunt the BJP’s nationalist pitch — feeding on cross-border terrorism — in the run-up to the 2014 polls.
But so was the NDA when it massed troops in thousands along the Indo-Pak border after the December 13, 2001, Parliament attack for which Guru got the noose.
The troops returned to the barracks without firing a shot, exposing the BJP-led combine to the charge of politically expedient militarism with an eye on assembly elections in several states including UP and Gujarat where, ironically, it delayed calling in the army to curb riots before the 2002 polls.
The generally emotive and divisive public debate on terrorism has made governments fumble when they should have kept their cool.
The lessons here are clear. One must reflect whether it is desirable at times to give statecraft precedence over copybook adherence to the rule of law; adopting lesser means to a bigger objective that is? Rulers need elbow room, not straitjackets. It’s no good to be brave without being wise.