The Saga of Afzal Guru’s Execution

    When home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was asked whether the execution of Afzal Guru was “political”, he said it was not a political decision but “done in accordance to the law”. The assumption, obviously, is that “politics” should not be part of dealing with complex political issues like terrorism and the emotional aftermath of carrying out the judicial process!

  Afzal Guru’s execution has, as it should in any democracy, triggered many debates: did the UPA act with political calculations? Was Afzal Guru wronged during the judicial process? Should India have provision for death penalty? Wouldn’t the execution revive unrest in Jammu and Kashmir to the scale of the 1990s?

  The Afzal Guru case was rooted in politics right from day one. The attack on Parliament was not a juvenile misadventure but a most violent manifestation of an aggressive form of politics, designed to challenge the very foundation of India’s secular, inclusive and parliamentary democracy. A stunning and strong slap on our very own motherland amour propré.

  The long delay in the execution of the death sentence was also part of politics. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar whipped up the worst form of jingoistic politics under the cover of “uncompromising fight against terrorism”. The frenzy had a clear communal subtext: the United Progressive Alliance regime was not only “soft on national security” but shall “not execute Afzal Guru because of its minority appeasement”.

  There was a counter-campaign with a matching subtext. Of course, many respected intellectuals / activists opposed the execution, based on the courage of their conviction and principles. But it was no secret that the campaign was also clinically exploited by the Jamaat-e-Islami, its political face, the Hurriyat (G), and terror outfits in Jammu and Kashmir and across the border for ideological and propaganda reasons. For most of them, the basic opposition to the Indian state is not the shortcomings of our democracy, but its adherence to a secular Constitution, instead of the Sharia.

   For them, therefore, the decision of any Indian institution, Parliament, executive or judiciary, has to be rejected. It was silly, therefore, to have presumed that the Congress and the UPA government — or, for that matter, any ruling establishment — would bow before these campaigns from either side.

  It was “absolutely necessary” for the Central Government to execute Afzal at the time it was done and in the way it was done. It had become a global issue for us. We were asking the US to give us David Coleman Headley so that we could try him here and give him the death penalty that he deserves. They could turn back and say, what about Afzal Guru?

  It was a decision taken after ensuring a lot of precautions. All the separatist leaders were out of Kashmir. Hurriyat Conference leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq were in Delhi, and promptly put under house arrest. JKLF chairman Yasin Malik was in Pakistan. Naeem Khan, who has a strong hold in the north Kashmir area, was arrested two days before the hanging. Only Shabir Shah, founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, was in Srinagar and he is not taken seriously as a separatist anymore.

  Politicians and governments are trained to respond in a time / manner, designed to both reclaim their position and stun their adversaries. This execution once again showed politics can never be a oneway traffic, for good or bad.

  Only democracy allows citizens the right to debate the rights and wrongs of decisions of the executive, the judiciary and Parliament itself. We must preserve that right. Intellectuals and activists have a great role in doing that. So, there is nothing wrong in raising questions on the judicial pronouncement on Afzal. Of course, the court order did indeed say, “The collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded.”

  But it is also a fact that Afzal was not sentenced on that basis but on circumstantial evidence against him. He was not the first, nor will he be the last to be convicted on the basis on circumstantial evidence. The same judiciary, notwithstanding the so-called “collective conscience”, also set aside the death sentence of another co-accused, commuted death sentence to life term of a second accused and set free a third one. Of course, we should debate why India should continue with the death penalty. But if that debate is linked to any particular case, it obviously loses credibility.

  Further, given the political / communal sensitivity of the case and knowing how formal communication about the rejection of mercy pleas in some recent equally-sensitive cases was used to create technical obstacles, the secret manner of the execution had surprised no one. In fact, we must use this occasion to firm up a campaign for fixing a time-bound disposal of mercy pleas and ensuring the rights of the family of the executed to pay their last respects.

  It is vital that J&K’s post-execution feelings are handled with sensitivity rather than brutality. Political India must creatively respond to the operative parts of statements from the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and the Opposition leader, the tallest representatives of the democratic mainstream that defied the threat/boycott call against elections. Both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party have a responsibility to prevail upon the Tamil Nadu parties and Akalis of Punjab to ensure Kashmir does not feel executions are done in a selective manner.

  More importantly, democratic, secular and inclusive India should accelerate the efforts to engage with and encourage the separatists to join the mainstream. 2013 is not the late 1980s or 1990s: separatism and terrorism have long lost empathyon the global stage for well-known reasons. That should not be reason for jubilation or despair but as an opening for a realistic give-and-take for the larger good of one and all.


Ho Koi bhi Prant ke waasi . . . Ho koi bhi Bhasha Bhashi . . .Sabse pehle hai Bharatwasi. . .

…shabab khan

(Author is in International Business; writes for the Journals of ECGC, CPEC, EPCH)
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About Shabab Khan

A Journalist, Philanthropist; Author of 'The Magician', 'Go!', 'Brutal'. Being a passionate writer, I am into Journalism and writing columns, news stories, articles for top media house. Twitter: @khantastix
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