Nearly five years after Afzal Guru filed for clemency, the home ministry has asked President Pratibha Patil to reject the plea of the prime accused in the 2001 Parliament attack.
The move is expected to end the BJP’s scathing criticism of the Congress-led coalition for the delay in Guru’s hanging. The case has been illustrated as a symbol of what it says is the Congress’s soft approach on terrorism.
Minister of state for home Mullappally Ramachandran told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that Afzal’s mercy plea was submitted to the president’s secretariat on July 27. Officials confirmed that home minister P Chidambaram had backed lieutenant-governor Tejinder Khanna’s view, rejecting the mercy petition.
A Delhi court had on December 18, 2002 sentenced Guru, and two others to death. Subsequently, SAR Geelani, a DU college lecturer, was acquitted and Shaukat Hussain Guru, Afzal’s cousin, was let off after 10 years in jail.
The ministry’s move may not mean that Guru will be hanged immediately. The President recently rejected mercy pleas of DPS Bhullar for planting a bomb outside the Youth Congress office in 1993 and Mahendra Nath Das for killing a man.
These two cases were the first time that Patil had rejected mercy pleas. Her predecessor, APJ Abdul Kalam, had reluctantly rejected the mercy plea of Bengal resident Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who had raped and killed a young girl.
In the last four years, Rashtrapati Bhavan has only processed the mercy petitions when the recommendation was to commute death to life imprisonment. More than a dozen cases — where the home ministry has recommended rejection of the mercy plea — are pending with the president’s secretariat.
Chidambaram — who devised a system to take up pleas in the order they came — had punctured the BJP-Sena campaign linking the delay in Guru's hanging to his religion, reminding them that mercy pleas of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins and convicts in terrorist cases, too, were pending.