'More uncertainty in store for Afzal'
As the clamour over the future of Mohammed Afzal grows, with the man on death row himself pleading for the noose as a way out out of his "daily suffering", a senior minister admitted that a decision was unlikely in the near future because of electoral compulsions.
"The government is in a dilemma. We cannot take an easy decision to push somebody to death especially when it has become a sensitive electoral issue," said a senior minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet who did not want to be identified.
"If he is hanged, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) will take advantage of it and it will create negative feelings against the government among at least a section of Muslims," the minister explained.
"It is a matter that is related to someone's life. You cannot take decisions in a hurry. Besides, there is a constitutional process, which is time-consuming too," he said.
Afzal, who has been on death row for the last three years for his role in the 2001 terror attack on Parliament, has been one of India's most controversial convicts.
Afzal - and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government - was back in the spotlight after he told IANS in an exclusive interview: "I don't think the UPA government can ever reach a decision. The Congress party has two mouths and is playing a double game. I really wish LK Advani becomes India's next prime minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily suffering would ease then."
The BJP has been running a campaign demanding the speedy execution of Afzal's death sentence. The issue has gained urgency for the Congress with some leaders of the opinion that the BJP's campaign linking the delay in carrying out the death sentence to national security has had some impact in Assembly elections in Gujarat and Karnataka where the ruling party got a drubbing.
The minister admitted that capital punishment should be carried out in "rarest of rare instances".
Officially, Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan would only say: "The capital punishment is there in our law books."
Home ministry sources also asserted that the Congress-led UPA government was unlikely to take a decision over Afzal's clemency petition.
Afzal was convicted by the Supreme Court in 2004, a ruling that was subsequently upheld a year later. His mercy petition - along with 40 others - is pending before the president.