ByÂ Sango Bidani:
As news trickled in that Parliament attack convict, Afzal Guru, has been hung to death inside Delhi’s Tihar Jail, at one level I thought maybe it was a good decision and finally justice was given. But then I began to question myself and tried to go deeper into it. Slowly it started getting clear that it was a carefully crafted game plan by the Congress to get back hard at BJP and gain some political brownie points. With Narendra Modi’s popularity growing, Congress was growing uneasy. There are several important questions that come to mind. One, why did it take so long for the execution of his sentence? Two, could we not have used the information provided by him? And a related question that emerges is, was death penalty the only solution? There is more to this than meets the eye.
Let’s look at some of the facts in the case. In December 2001, there was a deadly attack on the Parliament in which several policemen were injured and some were killed in crossfire with the militants, all of whom were killed. Then Afzal Guru was arrested as the ‘mastermind’ of the Parliament Attack, and was awarded death sentence by the trial court. In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty, paving the way for his execution.
One can’t help but ask, if the government and investigating authorities were so sure that he was indeed the ‘mastermind’ of the attack and felt that death penalty was the right punishment, why did the they sit on it for nine year? Even if we consider that Afzal Guru’s wife moved a mercy petition, still, the then president or the next president of India, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, could have considered the facts of the case and decided whether the mercy petition should be accepted or rejected. But she did nothing. 2012, enter Pranab Mukherjee as President into the picture and suddenly on January 23, barely six months into office; he rejects the mercy petition of Afzal Guru and gives the green signal for his execution. The question that bothers the citizens of the country is, why wait nine years before executing the death penalty?
There are two possible reasons for this. It is possible that probably Afzal Guru was not given a fair trial, as his family members allege, and that he was not the real ‘mastermind’ of the attack on Parliament. But this is hard to accept, given the fact that the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty awarded by the lower court. The only other reason then, for sitting over Afzal Guru’s execution is a deeply political one and might very well be true. Till 2009, the Congress was sitting pretty, in fact coming back for another five years with an astounding 203 seats on their own. However, since 2010, when the telecom scam broke out, the government has been under attack from both the left and the right, with corruption cases coming up one after the other. And, the government knew that if it sat on the Afzal Guru hanging any longer, they would be in a terrible situation. So, there might have been some amount of political pressure on the President to take such a big step such as rejecting mercy petition and giving a go ahead to the execution in such a hurry. It seems to be a very carefully crafted and strategic manipulation of the situation so that the main opposition party, BJP shuts up and allows the parliament to function. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to realize that it is endangering the safety of an already alienated and vulnerable state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Another disturbing and equally important question that can be raised is, was it not possible to use the information provided by Afzal Guru for the betterment of the country? In other words, was death penalty the only solution? This is where I feel India has gone wrong in its approach with tackling terrorists like Ajmal Kasab earlier and now Afzal Guru. Let’s look at a related development that took place in United States. David Headley, who played a key role in the operations and logistics of the Mumbai attacks, was sentenced to 35 years in jail. The court argued that till Headley underwent this punishment he cannot claim to be a changed man. Even after release he will be under the watchful eyes of the federal police. Could we not have done something similar with both Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab? Since our intelligence gathering mechanism is so poor and pathetic, at least with these two terrorists we could have culled out some useful information about their future ideas and plans of attack. Now that they have been killed, if god forbid, Pakistan decided to launch a terror attack on India, where would we get the prior information so that at least something can be done to prevent them? We, in India, need to understand that death penalty is not the solution; it will in fact have a whole lot of terrible repercussions on India, which is, as it is in a very fragile situation and we cannot afford another attack from Pakistan to decimate and debilitate the country.
We need to understand the importance and significance of these questions and their possible answers urgently, before it gets too late.