Was the delay in Guru’s execution unconstitutional?
Barely six months after he moved into Rashtrapati Bhavan, President Pranab Mukherjee has rejected the two most talked about mercy petitions in recent times, resulting in the hanging of terror convicts in both cases.
The rejection of mercy petitions filed by Mumbai terror convict Ajmal Amir Kasab and Parliament attack mastermind Afzal Guru by Mukherjee within a gap of 10 weeks is a marked departure from the style of functioning of his predecessors.
Former President Pratibha Patil had left 16 mercy petitions of convicts on death row pending for her successor.
Within six months, two of them have been rejected, a death sentence has been commuted into life imprisonment and 13 others have been sent back to the ministry of home affairs, seeking fresh opinion in the petitions.
During her five-year tenure, Patil rejected three mercy petitions and commuted death sentences into life imprisonment in 12 cases.
She wanted to go slow and had reportedly told the government that as the first woman President, she could not act hastily and send convicts to the gallows in the 23 cases which she had “inherited”.
Mukherjee, however, entered the Rashtrapati Bhavan with no such baggage.
In fact, history repeated itself when he rejected Kasab's mercy petition in November 2012. Mukherjee was the external affairs minister when the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack took place in 2008, and he had played a pivotal role in building international pressure on Pakistan.
Kasab, a Pakistani militant and a member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba Islamist group, was hanged on November 21, 2012.
While there is a raging global debate over the abolition of death penalty, Mukherjee has shown, on earlier occasions too, that he does not shy away from this provision.
As finance minister, he had recommended retention of death penalty in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, but had agreed to make it optional instead of mandatory punishment.