The hanging of 26/11 terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab on the eve of a stormy Parliament session and about three weeks before Gujarat goes to polls has its political significance. To some extent, it neutralises the BJP logic that the UPA-2 is weak-kneed when it comes to taking tough decisions on internal security issues.
As news of Kasab’s execution spread on Wednesday, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi wanted to know what action was being contemplated in the case of Afzal Guru, Parliament attack death row convict. The BJP borrowed Modi’s rhetoric and continued asking the Afzal Guru question through the day.
The Congress, however, had been referring to Afzal Guru from Wednesday morning, soon after Kasab was hanged. Though younger leaders did not want to be drawn into any controversy, quite a few senior Congress leaders thought an early decision on Afzal Guru would help politically.
There is a small but powerful section in the Congress which believes that the ultra-nationalist sentiments on issues like a long-pending decision on Afzal Guru should not be ignored.
They understand that there are political costs of taking a final call on Afzal Guru, especially the administrative difficulties which might have to be confronted in his home state – Kashmir, but they don’t want the BJP to gain an upper hand from the postponement of a final decision on Guru.
Separatist leaders have already warned the Centre of dire consequences in Afzal Guru goes to the gallows. “Kashmir will singe if Afzal is hanged. His execution will unleash a storm of protests which New Delhi cannot withstand. The government should think thousand times before deciding anything against Afzal,” said Ayaz Akbar, chief spokesman of hard-line faction of the Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Moderate separatists agree.
“The hanging of Afzal is bound to have repercussions in Kashmir,” said Syed Saleem Geelani, senior moderate Hurriyat leader. Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, however, refused comment on the issue.
Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh was more vocal. “Finally Kasab hanged. GOI should pursue the case of the handlers in Pakistan. Afzal Guru’s case should also be expedited now,” he tweeted on Wednesday morning. The hint was obvious. Singh was pleading for an early settlement of the Parliament attack case. He was speaking the language of the opposition. Coming from Singh, who is extra-protective about minority sentiments, the tweet meant a lot.
But there is unlikely to be an early decision on Afzal Guru. His is one of the seven files which president Pranab Mukherjee has recently sent back to the Union home minister for reconsideration. Mukherjee believes it is important that Sushilkumar Shinde, who recently took over as Union home minister, should have a relook at the judgment before he takes the final call. The Afzal Guru case is a complex one. It is not as much an open and shut case as Kasab’s.
There was a sense of achievement in the Congress on Wednesday. Even if the party downplayed the issue, there was no doubt that the party felt the government had accomplished something important on the eve of what looked like yet another acrimonious Parliament session. But because of Kasab’s hanging, the BJP’s much-touted countrywide rally against corruption and price fizzled out.