Kasab Hanged: Sparks Catharsis

So what were the political compulsions behind the sudden and secret execution of Ajmal Kasab?
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
 

Early in the morning, the news of the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, at the Yerwada jail in Pune, was beamed live by all television channels. The report resulted in cathartic celebrations across the country. Some politicians and anchors were seen gloating on TV channels claiming that justice has finally been done and how he deserved the extreme punishment. 

Interestingly, the decision to hang Kasab came a day after India opposed a UN General Assembly draft resolution to abolish death penalty. India was among the 39 other countries that voted against the resolution while 120 countries agreed to abolish it. While opposing the resolution, Indian counsellor to the UN, Amit Kumar, said, “In India, the death penalty is exercised in the 'rarest of rare' cases, where the crime committed is so heinous as to shock the conscience of society.” Human Rights Watch condemned Kasab’s execution and called for a moratorium on capital punishment. 

The process of sending Kasab to the gallows was initiated after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy plea on November 5, 2012. Soon after, on November 7, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde signed the file and forwarded it to the Maharashtra government the very next day. Thereafter, a team of handpicked policemen were chosen to execute ‘Operation X’ and it was ensured that the news of his hanging is kept a secret. 

The Indian government had also informed Pakistan well in advance about the hanging, but Pakistan chose to ignore the letter. The government also sent a fax regarding the matter but received no response from the Pakistani authorities. “The external affairs ministry, through our mission in Islamabad, had informed the Pakistan government about Kasab's hanging. When they did not accept the letter, they were communicated through fax,” Shinde told reporters in New Delhi.     

Strikingly, it is the timing of Kasab’s hanging that has raised eyebrows; many believe that there is a larger political conspiracy behind the move. Some consider it as a plank by the ruling party to gain some brownie points in the run up to the upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat, while others believe that the beleaguered Congress-led UPA government is using it to overshadow other issues before the winter session of the Parliament. 

 ‘BJP will not be able to allege now that we are soft on terrorism. We have taken away from them their political plank against the Congress. We have shown that we act decisively once legal hurdles are cleared’

Soon after the news became public, Congress leaders came out to settle scores against the BJP which had repeatedly targeted the government of being “soft on terror”. Minister of State for Home RPN Singh told reporters, “Bharatiya Janata Party will not be able to allege now that we are soft on terrorism. We have taken away from them their political plank against the Congress. We have shown that we act decisively once legal hurdles are cleared.”     

Though the BJP welcomed the decision, but it once again raised the bogey of Afzal Guru’s pending death sentence. “What about Afzal Guru, who attacked Parliament, our temple of democracy, in 2001? That offence predates Kasab's heinous act by many years,” Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. Other leaders of BJP spoke in the same tone and tenor and wanted Guru to be executed at the earliest. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “The Supreme Court has rejected his plea, and his review petition has also been rejected. But why has the government not taken any action? I hope the government will now expedite to whole process of mercy petition.” 

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, who had repeatedly raised doubts about Hemant Karkare’s death on the day of the Mumbai carnage, too toed the same line and tweeted, “Finally Kasab hanged. GOI should pursue the case of the handlers in Pakistan. Afzal Guru's case should also be expedited now.” 

By expediting Kasab’s hanging, a rather discredited central government, which is struggling to push its ‘reforms’ agenda, is desperately trying to establish itself as a tough regime against terror. It is also trying to counter BJP’s rhetoric of it being soft on issues of national security. It remains to be seen if political compulsions and populist interests will hasten the process of execution of others on the death row. 

Pro-lifers have once again raised the issue of how a country which professes Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence and peace should so obsessively choose to collectively celebrate this blood-lust, unlike most ‘civilised’ nations on this earth which have rejected the death penalty

However, the execution has once again sparked the debate on death penalty and the idea of justice in India. Activists point out that many rioters, rapists and mass murderers in communal carnages are never really sent to the gallows or even punished, including top leaders and politicians implicated by official enquiry commissions or the police. Pro-lifers have once again raised the issue of how a country which professes Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence and peace should so obsessively choose to collectively celebrate this blood-lust, unlike most ‘civilised’ nations on this earth which have rejected the death penalty. They particularly point out that the loud cries against Afzal Guru on TV, led by some prominent anchors and the BJP, indeed, smacks of a certain lack of public decency.

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