Media persons gather at the premises of Tihar jail where Afzal Guru, the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant convicted in attack on Parliament in 2001, was hanged, in New Delhi. PTI
A day after Afzal Guru was quietly executed and buried in Tihar jail here, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah expressed unhappiness with the way the Parliament attack convict’s family in the Valley was kept in the dark and worried about the long-term implications on the state, where a tense curfew keeps the peace.
Conceding that the death sentence had “given Afzal Guru the tag of martyr for Kashmiris to rally around”, he told HT: “Only a fool will suggest the hanging will not increase alienation. It’s not for nothing that I was concerned about the execution.”
Kashmiri youth, active on Twitter, have already started using Afzal’s photo. Abdullah, an avid member of the social media himself, went to the extent of saying “Maqbool Butt was a name the youth didn’t identify with but now Afzal has become their symbol and they are going to rally around him”.
In a strong message aimed both at his constituency and the government in Delhi, the CM said, “I am not a proponent of the death penalty but so long as you have it on the statute books, it must be applied equally… Just because the state sends only a few MPs to Parliament doesn’t mean it should be treated any differently from Tamil Nadu and Punjab. Political considerations should not weigh in for larger states.”
Extremely unhappy that Afzal’s family wasn’t informed that their mercy plea had been rejected by the President, he said, “I have a problem with the manner in which the family was kept in the dark. Let’s not just quote the jail manual. Leave law and politics aside, the least we could’ve done was allow the family to meet him one last time.”
The family has written to him, asking for the body to be given to them, and the CM said he would take this up with the Centre. Abdullah said he would have preferred the death to be commuted to life. "He was only 43. It would have been more appropriate to spend the rest of his life in custody, mulling over what he had done."
Also questioning the judiciary, he said, "The judgment said he should hang because there was enough circumstantial evidence. But shouldn't it have been concrete evidence?"
Parity is what Abdullah appears to be seeking. "(Former presidents) APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil left Afzal's decision to their successors but it is important to ensure a message goes out that Guru was not hanged for political reasons. Parliament is not the only symbol of democracy. PMs and CMs too are symbols of democracy," he said, clearly referring to the death row convicts involved in the assassinations of former PM Rajiv Gandhi and former Punjab CM Beant Singh.
To the final question of why there was a clampdown on newspapers and news channels, he said, "I'd rather be criticised for no newspapers than for casualties. We are dealing with a very difficult situation."