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Afzal Guru walks poll plank

Sunday, 10 February 2013 - 9:00am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Main accused in parliament attack hanged in secret, 3 months after Kasab.

Afzal Guru, the main accused in the 2001 Parliament attack, was hanged at Delhi's Tihar jail at 8am on Saturday, six days after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy petition. The execution came three months after the execution of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani terrorist accused in 26/11 terror attacks. Guru was buried in Tihar jail itself.

Hanging Afzal Guru is undoubtedly an executive decision which, despite the government’s vehement denial, is very conveniently timed. Coming as it is just a fortnight before a difficult budget session it strengthens the government’s position on the floor of the Parliament. More significantly, it lends credibility to a cornered home minister facing an Opposition boycott. And it also sounds the election bell for a ruling coalition which believes it is coming out from a neck-deep crisis and can turn things around with a voter-friendly budget.

It is the inordinate delay in taking the decision which heightens suspicions of a political nature. This death sentence file has moved to and fro between North Block and Rashtrapati Bhavan for the past six years.

The government has never given a cogent argument for postponing what appeared inevitable. Three presidents and three home ministers have given more than due consideration to the mercy petition. Suddenly, a beleaguered government has acquired the necessary political will and executed both Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru in quick succession. The core group of the Congress party had carefully evaluated the possible political repercussions of carrying out the sentence.

The think tank had reassured itself from available facts that the overwhelming public opinion across the country did not want the Parliament attack convict to go unpunished. It must have also been ascertained that this hanging would not alienate the dominant minority community across the country.

The government has never given a cogent argument for postponing what appeared inevitable. Three presidents and three home ministers have given more than due consideration to the mercy petition. Suddenly, a beleaguered government has acquired the necessary political will and executed both Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru in quick succession.

The core group of the Congress party had carefully evaluated the possible political repercussions of carrying out the sentence. The think tank had reassured itself from available facts that the overwhelming public opinion across the country did not want the Parliament attack convict to go unpunished. It must have also been ascertained that this particular hanging would not alienate the dominant minority community across the country. The Congress was definitely aware that it was taking a dangerous risk in the valley. The death of another terrorist and hijacker Maqbool Bhatt also on a cold February morning in the same Tihar jail had ignited Kashmir 29 years ago. But the assessment was that Ajmal Guru was no Bhatt. His death wouldn’t be exploited to that extent by the separatists.

The Congress has long been accused by the BJP of going soft on terror. After a prolonged delay, the clinical response over the past few months in dealing with the long-pending Kasab and Afzal Guru cases has somewhat negated a significant Opposition poll plank. The NDA can no longer campaign against the Centre’s timid handling of the terror accused and raise questions about its ability to provide security to the citizens. Obviously the ruling alliance is looking to deflect criticism on various fronts, especially on price rise and corruption. It will not be outwardly triumphant because terror is a sensitive issue and quite a significant group harbours a different perspective on the Afzal Guru trial. But the Congress will quietly claim that it had silenced its critics on matters pertaining to internal security.

The question arises how early the government is planning to hold elections. As Mulayam Singh Yadav recently told his party workers, polls were around the corner and could be expected in September this year. A prevailing view in the government is to wait and watch the widely anticipated positive reaction to an economically pleasing and preferably pro-people Chidambaram budget. Once the budget has gone down well, the government could then weigh its options and call for elections, possibly in November along with the several states including Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan going to the polls at the time. If the economy does not turn around and price rise continues unabated, the government would, under no circumstances, wait till April next year, when the polls are actually scheduled.

It is interesting that both executions have happened after President Pranab Mukherjee has taken speedy decisions on files which had been routed to him. He has not vacillated like his immediate predecessor. He has taken a firm standpoint after the necessary consultations and has, through his actions, given the impression that he would not be over-sensitive to considerations about adverse political impact when it comes to dealing with terror cases. Interestingly, Pranab-babu’s early decisions as President have coincidentally enough suited the government of the day. His rigour, his sharpness has turned out to be beneficial for the Congress party’s political interests. Even an otherwise casual Sushil Kumar Shinde has gained by sheer association. He appears to have made his mark as a decisive home minister, thanks to a proactive President Mukherjee.

The Hurriyat was disorganised on Saturday. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq was unavailable. Syed Ali Shah Geelani was in Delhi. Yasin Malik was supposedly in Pakistan. Curfew had been imposed in the valley, cable television disconnected and the internet simply not working. Kashmir was cut off from the rest of the country. But such a situation of isolation cannot be enforced for long. Relative calm had returned to the valley after the daily stone-pelting incidents of 2010. No doubt, quite a few sarpanches had been murdered but those crimes were being committed by elements sponsored by Pakistan. It was the tranquillity in the valley which had compelled a desperate Pakistan to raise the temperature on the Line of Control. North Block will keep its fingers crossed and hope that its assessment of Guru’s execution not having much of an impact will prove right.
 


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