Hanging Woes

On Saturday, 8th February 2013, India proved that it is a very weak and insecure republic. Probably it is, but it was made public by the central government’s decision to secretly execute Afzal Guru. The reason for the inordinate delay for rejecting the mercy petition was politically motivated vote-bank calculation. This quick and hurried execution too is of politics. It is clearly intended to gain political mileage and puncture some steam the BJP has been getting due to their hard stand on this issue. In this ugly calculation, the government has destroyed any semblance of peace in the valley, and showed to the rest of the world that the Indian republic is a weak and insecure one.

As far as Afzal Guru’s case is concerned, it has always been doomed if you do and doomed if you don’t. On the one side, there was Hindutva brigade, continually accusing the UPA government of playing to the minority gallery and making Guru’s case into a religious one, i.e. executing Guru will upset the minorities. It may not be the case, but it was sure to inflame the Kashmiris. On the other hand, there were human rights groups overwhelmingly opposed to death penalty that used Guru as their poster boy. They held the leash for the government’s decision by citing several loopholes in the prosecution case to state that Guru’s case was not fought properly in the courts and, because of the holes in police’s versions, he may be innocent after all. Caught between the two, the UPA had decided to practice their infamous indecision. Manmohan Singh had no problem at all with such indecision. He will become forceful only when it comes to protecting the interests of American government and American multinationals. Anything else, corruption, human rights, Telengana, Aadhar, Lokpal, Cauvery, etc., can wait. They are not after all as desperate as Walmart, are they? If Tamil Nadu can suffer without water and electricity due to UPA’s wilful procrastination, what of Guru? A terrorist, after all!

Whether Guru was part of the conspiracy to blow up the Indian Parliament, we don’t know. Were there holes in prosecution’s version? Was the case against Guru stitched up? We don’t know. Having read both versions, we only know this: there are indeed disparities in the way the police built up their case against Guru. However, it was only to be expected. There is not a single case in India, perhaps even across the world, that is not ‘stitched’ up by the police. Some evidences are found, some are not, and, based on their investigation, they arrive at informed conclusions. Being convinced of somebody’s culpability is one thing, proving it to the judiciary is another. The latter requires a well-constructed story fully backed by evidence.

In such a scenario, especially when the conspiracy is hatched in a hostile country, it is a bit difficult to obtain sufficient evidences to back every claim. You will end up stitching some lose bits. Still, the case was fought fiercely from the lower courts up to the Supreme Court, to the full glare of media and all the human rights activists. Professor Geelani who was awarded death along with Guru in the High Court, was acquitted by the Supreme Court. Then, after all the due procedures are followed, Guru’s was confirmed, and later his mercy petition too was rejected. After all this, it is juvenile to cry foul at the investigation. No one but the skilled conspiracy theorist like Arundhati Roy can dream up such a story. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to conceive that Guru was nowhere connected to the plot. And, considering the enormity of the crime, even a marginal role played by him is enough to justify the death penalty. So we have no problem with the award of death penalty.

What we have problem with is the secrecy. Right or wrong, Guru’s case is inextricably linked to the cause of Kashmir. Now, whether we accept or not, most of the Kashmiris (and the Pakistanis) are bound to believe people like Arundhati Roy and think Guru was innocent. They have seen Kasab being swiftly hanged. They have now seen Guru’s secret hanging. They are also seeing Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins getting a reprieve even after 22 years. They are seeing other death row inmates such as Veerappan’s aids in jails for 15 years. So in their minds, Hindu convicts receive reprieve and Muslim convicts are hanged swiftly. If they are Kashmiri, their families don’t even receive any advance notice.

We could argue that Rajiv Gandhi assassins received reprieve not from the government, but from the courts. That’s exactly the argument the government is attempting. If Guru’s execution had been announced, these human rights warriors would have gone to the courts and had it stayed. But is that the reason to do it secretly? What is the difference, then, between this and a policeman killing a ‘powerful’ rowdy in an ‘encounter’ because, if fought in the courts, the rowdy might use his influences and get acquitted? Is that is the way we want to run our democracy and judiciary? So can cops kill people at will, politicians swindle the coffers at will and kill their political opponents at will, and governments can conduct their operations secretly, away from the prying eyes of judiciary? Is that the place Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh want to take India to?

Guru’s execution is going to be a significant milestone in the history of Kashmir conflict. For a long time to come, no amount of goodwill measures, bus routes and UN-administered elections is going to mend the emotional wounds of the Kashmiris. Their separatists have now received fresh dose fuel in their campaigns and Pakistani establishment got one more point to further their Hindu India vs. Muslim Pakistan argument. Maqbool Butt’s hanging in the 80s fanned the dormant Kashmiri cause. Now Guru’s unceremonious hanging seems to have set it on fire. Sonia and Manmohan’s careless and reckless governance will have to answer the burning houses and dying people of Kashmir tomorrow.