Why Afzal Guru shouldn’t be hanged

At the outset, I must make it clear that I don’t sympathise with Afzal Guru but I’m certainly against capital punishment. If Afzal is on death row for hatching the plan that led to the attack on the Parliament, why wasn’t Vinayak Damodar Savarkar hanged for conspiring, nay masterminding, Gandhi’s assassination? Gandhi, known as “the father of nation,” was even greater than any institution and if ND Apte was hanged along with Nathuram Godse for being involved in Gandhi’s assassination, Savarkar should also have been meted out the same treatment – at least life imprisonment. But he got the benefit of doubt and was acquitted. This rabid Hindu Brahmin begged to be pardoned when the British exiled him to the cellular jail in Andaman. He promised never to raise his voice against the English again. The tone of his letter to the Queen was so embarrassingly servile that Nehru had to intervene, never to make it public. Didn’t Justice Khosla refer to that letter and ask Savarkar during the trial at Lal Qilla: “How’ll you defend yourself when there’re clinching proofs of your changed fawning attitude towards the British and your condemnation of Muslims? A person who’s not true to his principles can go to any extent and I seriously question your integrity and implication in Mr Gandhi’s assassination...” (Court proceedings: Gandhi assassination, 1950).

Godse and Apte categorically stated before Justice Khosla that Savarkar had a very strong role in Gandhi’s assassination. Dr Nagendra Singh, the first and only judge from India to be appointed as a judge at International Court of Justice at the Hague, (Netherlands), wrote that, “Had Savarkar not been a ‘freedom fighter’ (he apostrophed freedom fighter), he’d certainly have been severely punished for his dubious role in Gandhi’s assassination.” But I hasten to add that conspirators must get benefit of doubt because of their indirect involvement in a case. Whenever a conspirator is awarded capital punishment and that punishment’s carried out, it leaves a lot many questions to be answered. Why was N D Apte hanged? According to Justice Tahreer Arshad, “Savarkar enjoyed much greater public sympathy (in fact, sympathy of Maharashtrian Brahmins) and was much more powerful than relatively unknown Apte. Someone, apart from just Godse, needed to be hanged from a considerably large group of participants. So Apte was chosen. He too should have had benefit of doubt like Savarkar as he didn’t fire at Gandhi.”

When Kehar Singh was hanged along with Satwant Singh for the assassination of Mrs Gandhi, Ram Jethmalani called it “a miscarriage of justice” because Kehar Singh’s role in the whole conspiracy was rather unclear. Satwant Singh fired at Mrs Gandhi along with his slain accomplice Beant Singh. Kehar’s name was dragged at a later stage and he was hanged. Likewise, Afzal Guru’s involvement in the attack on Parliament hasn’t been proven without a shred of doubt. There’re many loopholes and legal insinuations suggesting Guru’s peripheral implication in the whole issue on which the man can be acquitted or his execution commuted to life imprisonment. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2011 on page no. 2

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