Afzal Guru’s Fate Sealed By Law Or Politics?

Capital punishment given to Afzal Guru is likely to be deliberated upon for quite some time. Just as the view that Guru was denied a fair trial cannot be ignored, the agitation of Kashmiris over his death cannot be sidelined. Despite there being legal doubt about Guru deserving capital punishment, his hurried and hush-hush execution exposes a very serious lapse in the Indian system.  

Even if it is accepted that Guru was a party to the conspiracy, because of which Parliament was attacked by terrorists in December 2001, it cannot be ignored that he was not caught at the site while the terrorist operation was on. If one of the terrorists, who had participated in the attack against the Parliament, had been awarded capital punishment, it would not have been questioned on any legal ground. None of them survived the brief battle with security forces that their terrorist endeavour led to. Guru was arrested later and charged with having indulged in a conspiracy to attack India.
 Equally significant is the fact that questions being raised regarding Guru’s capital punishment cannot be linked with the execution of Ajmal Qasab. He was charged for terror strikes in Mumbai (2008). Qasab’s presence in Mumbai with weapons has been telecast innumerable times. He was there while the terrorist operations were taking place.
It would be incorrect to justify capital punishment for Guru by citing the example of the punishment awarded to Qasab. The two cases are totally different. During the course of legal proceedings, even judiciary has at times commented on their being insufficient evidence against Guru. At one point, Guru did confess to crimes he was charged with. However, later, he withdrew his confession, a fact that was noted by the judiciary.
 One is also forced to wonder as to what prompted President Pranab Mukerjee to send Guru’s file back to Home Ministry for reconsideration. The file was returned to him within two months this January. Subsequently, Mukerjee did not waste much time in sealing Guru’s fate. If he wanted, he could have refrained from taking any action on Guru’s case for as long as he wished. Two earlier Presidents had already returned the file.
There is no denying the fact that terrorists’ attack on Parliament was a dangerous attack on Indian democracy. However, this does not justify awarding capital punishment in absence of sufficient evidence against Guru. Perhaps, if parliamentary elections were not round the corner, Guru may still have been alive in Tihar jail. Had Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde not provoked a controversy recently over his comments regarding “Hindu terrorism,” Guru may not have been hung. If political pressure led Guru to gallows, one is forced to deliberate on whether legal proceedings in India are decided by politics or by law?

Guru was an Indian Kashmiri. Undeniably, his death led to tension in the Valley. A week-long curfew in all parts of the Valley is a proof of the fears entertained by the state government. Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has voiced anger and opposition regarding Guru’s death sentence. He has adopted this approach more out of political necessity. Omar has no other option but to give greater importance to sentiments of Kashmiris, who seem fairly agitated against the capital punishment of Guru. Omar could have voiced this opinion earlier too.

 Kashmiris’ opposition to Guru’s death indicates their attempt to assert that even today they remain deprived of a fair trial, justice and freedom to fully exercise their democratic rights. Thousands of Kashmiris have been targeted by bullets for decades. Even today, an ordinary Kashmiri’s life is held at stake by guns. Innocent Kashmiris have been labeled as terrorists innumerable times. However, ever since Indian media has started paying serious attention to this issue, there has been a notable decline in this trend. When it is election time, Kashmiris have started come out in increasing numbers, displaying their courage to exercise their right to vote. They are guided by a hope of receiving their due share in Indian democracy. If Guru’s death was decided by political factors, it exposes the degree to which a Kashmiri Muslim’s life is still played with.

Certainly, Congress has scored a political victory by defying its rival party, BJP’s charge that it was not taking serious action against terrorism. And this brings us to square one. Was decision regarding Guru’s capital punishment taken to silence BJP?

Unfortunately, wrong decisions, including capital punishments devoid of substantial evidence, provide opportunity to elements bent on creating tension in the country. In Guru’s case, the Valley has been affected. Restraint has been exercised on local media and other means of communication to prevent the situation from turning volatile. Where Omar’s opposition against Guru’s death is concerned, it may be viewed as his attempt to control the situation in Kashmir. His anger and opposition has not prompted his party (National Conference) to move out of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. If Guru’s capital punishment was decided by political factors, the Congress-led government has erred by giving Kashmiris a reason to be agitated. The agitation may be checked but tension shall prevail for long over politics having decided Guru’s fate!