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Omar Abdullah is right

Rarely have I written in praise of politicians, so today is certainly an exception. However, the truth is I feel I have to support Omar Abdullah’s comments on the hanging of Afzal Guru. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: Feb 16, 2013 23:18 IST

Rarely have I written in praise of politicians, so today is certainly an exception. However, the truth is I feel I have to support Omar Abdullah’s comments on the hanging of Afzal Guru. In fact, I’ll go further. I want to applaud him. He has shown remarkable courage and impressive honesty.

Consider what he said on CNN-IBN. Recalling how political parties, the BJP in particular, had aggressively demanded Afzal Guru’s hanging but are deafeningly silent about the fate of Rajiv Gandhi’s or Beant Singh’s assassins, whose death sentences were confirmed by the Supreme Court long before Afzal Guru’s and were, therefore, higher up in the queue once proclaimed by Mr Chidambaram but since conveniently forgotten, he said that the murder of a sitting Chief Minister or a former Prime Minister was as much an attack on India’s democracy as the December 13, 2001, assault on Parliament.

Clearly the logic that ruled Afzal Guru must hang applies equally to these assassins.

Yet, after their mercy petition had been rejected, Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins were consciously, if not deliberately, given four weeks notice of their scheduled hanging, thus enabling them to appeal a last time to the judiciary.

In Beant Singh’s assassin’s case, the Akali Dal, supported in silence by their ally the BJP, insisted on petitioning the President for mercy even though the assassin himself had repeatedly refused to do so.

In contrast, Afzal Guru was hanged in secrecy. The letter informing his family was sent by our oxymoronic Speed Post and arrived two days after his death. The delay was intended to ensure there was no time for a final plea for review.

Yet when I interviewed Minister of State for Home RPN Singh he said the DG Police had confirmed the letter had been delivered.

I asked him twice and he replied in the affirmative both times. But speaking to the Indian Express, the Chief Post Master General of Jammu and Kashmir, John Samuel, revealed it was only received in Srinagar on the 9th, the day of the execution, and delivered on the 11th.

Omar Abdullah’s conclusion is irrefutable: “You will have to prove to the world that the death penalty is not used selectively. The onus rests on the judiciary and the political leadership to show that this wasn’t a selective execution.” I couldn’t agree more.

However, Omar Abdullah also made, this time with undisguised passion, a simple human point which, sadly, most people forget applies as much to terrorists as anyone else: “I find it very difficult to reconcile myself to the fact that we executed a person who wasn’t given an opportunity to see his family for a last time.”

Not only was this Afzal Guru’s right, it was also the right of his wife and son who are not criminals or even accused. Like you and me, they’re Indian citizens. But, above all else, this was a matter of human decency.

Once again, our system failed.

Even if secrecy was important to prevent the last-minute aborting of Afzal Guru’s execution, can’t our State arrange a meeting without breaching it? If nuclear tests can be conducted in secret or the Delhi rape victim’s name withheld for months, is our State so infirm it can’t meet this lesser challenge?

I am not talking of the hanging itself but the way it was done, by stealth and without giving his family a chance to say farewell, has diminished our democracy and our idea of justice.

(Views expressed by the author are personal)