The Mohammad Afzal case has taken an unfortunate turn. While public debate is a sure sign of the health of a democracy, the use of emotional blackmail to get one’s way, surely, is not. In the case of the mercy petition of death row convict Mohammad Afzal pending before President Abdul Kalam, we have heard, over the past few weeks, heated arguments on why he should be hanged and on why he needs to be pardoned, or at the very least granted clemency. As often happens with arguments that get emotionally charged, in this instance, too, a rational perspective has been lost in the din. It has thus become all the more important to reiterate the statement that Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi made in Parliament on Wednesday: “Each person has the right to seek clemency.” This applies equally to one accused of a crime ‘against the nation’. To demand unequivocally then that Afzal be hanged at the earliest is practically an attempt at mob justice.
The attack on our Parliament on December 13, 2001, was certainly the most blatant and outrageous act of terrorism perpetrated on our grounds. In August last year, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty awarded to Afzal by the Delhi High Court, stating in its judgment that only this would satisfy “collective conscience”. The apex court has largely been recognised for its fair evaluation of cases. Yet, there are troubling questions regarding Afzal’s sentence, which must be examined thoroughly by the President — and by default, the Union council of ministers — before he decides on the clemency petition. And the most important of these: is Afzal’s punishment commensurate with his crime?
As the Supreme Court itself has noted recently, the ‘rule of law’ must be the sole consideration while deciding upon mercy and clemency pleas. Instead of baying for blood and attempting to politicise the issue, we must first put Afzal’s case through this rigorous test and await the outcome. In a proud democracy, only then should collective conscience be satisfied.