The hanging of the 2001 Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru in Delhi’s Tihar Jail last week evoked a range of diverse emotions. While Guru’s Sopore-based family accused the Union government of not informing them about the execution, the State rejected the charge.
A senior Supreme Court lawyer questioned the timing of the execution, saying that the Centre decided to hang Guru at this time because several important assembly elections are round the corner and also because it wanted to deflect the BJP’s charge that the UPA has been soft on terror. Guru, a Jaish-e-Mohammad member, was sentenced to death by a Delhi court in 2002, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005 and then again in 2007.
The BJP, which was gearing up to take on the UPA in the budget session of Parliament for home minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s comment on Hindu terror, welcomed the hanging. But in the same breath, fearing that the Congress has taken a sting out of its campaign against the ruling party on terror, has been reminding the public that there has been an inordinate delay in hanging Guru and the timing of the execution was motivated by the political situation. Yet, on December 13, 2012, on the 11th anniversary of the Parliament attack, the BJP said that if the government wanted to “pay real tribute” to the martyrs of the Parliament attack, it should declare a date for the hanging.
So now for it to claim that it was public pressure and that “perhaps the government is acting now against the death convicts as it suffers from policy paralysis”, as Venkaiah Naidu commented, is a bit rich. Then we had Yashwant Sinha saying that the ‘credit’ of punishing Guru “goes to the President and not the central government”, knowing well that the President doesn’t decide on clemency issues; he is bound by the decision of the Cabinet or the home ministry.
Instead of such verbal jousts on Guru’s hanging, there is a need to ponder over a few other important questions: first, since delays lead to questions on timing/political motives of such executions, why can’t there be a time limit for decisions on mercy pleas, and second, when India is confident about the fact that the due process of law was followed in both cases — Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru — why did the authorities deviate from the earlier established process of making information about the rejection of mercy petitions and dates of execution available to the public and start this new practice of carrying out hangings in secret? Such unwarranted secrecy, even if it is to maintain law and order, will only lead to uncomfortable questions for the government in the long run and help certain forces exploit the situation, even when there is not an iota of doubt about the validity of these two cases.