Death penalty is repugnant, but can one sympathise with Kasab?

Death penalty is repugnant, but can one sympathise with Kasab?

The hanging of Ajmal Kasab on Wednesday morning at the hallowed Yeravada Prison in Pune evokes mixed feelings in many of us who have been advocating the abolition of the death penalty for ages.

It gives us no pleasure that a young life, however misdirected it was, had to be taken on behalf of the State. If one considered however the diabolical nature of his crime one would hardly shed a tear for him. How can anyone condone such a mass killing of innocent men and women whose only fault was that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time?

 When it did happen on November 26, 2008, as a hard boiled policeman, I was particularly incensed at the loss of some decorated police lives. I now feel vindicated. So should the members of families who were personally devastated by the loss of their near and dear ones.

The hanging, coming as it does a few days before the 4th anniversary of the carnage, would also send the right message across police forces in the country that the government and society would not brook attempts to demoralise the police, and they will actually come down with a heavy hand on those trying to destabilise society and our law enforcement agencies. This is about the most positive likely outcome of the bold executive decision to avenge 26/11.

I must compliment both the Central and Maharashtra governments for the clinical manner in which they went about the task. Hardly anyone – other than possibly the hangman and the jail staff -- knew the final and finer details. Kasab was moved out of Mumbai’s high-security Arthur Road prison just two days ago and brought to Pune for the execution. (Although there was one brief inconspicuous press report about the transfer, nobody sensed that this was prelude to a final decision to hang him.)

My guess is that this was a midnight operation when Kasab was moved out in a chopper attracting little attention. Indian authorities have possibly taken a leaf out of the US Seals’ successful landing at Abbottobad and subsequent liquidation of Bin Laden. That this transfer took place without any major leakage of information is a tribute to the establishment’s ability to protect sensitive information when it is called for. Otherwise we know how porous our public systems are, where nothing is a secret!

There is a demand now from some quarters that there should not be any further delay in the execution of Afzal Guru waiting on the death row for his role in the attack on our Parliament on December 13, 2001.Many in the Opposition had earlier perceived politics in the inexplicable delay. The suggestion was that the government was pandering to minority sensitivity. However justified or wrong such a perception was, New Delhi has now taken the wind out of the sails of this group through this swift action in executing Ajmal Kasab.

More pressure

The government will be hard put to explain any further delay with regard to Afzal Guru. No hair splitting to draw a distinction between Afzal Guru and Kasab would convince the common man. Nor will any stand that the President of India is an independent entity who cannot be hustled into action wash in the eyes of the more knowledgeable observers.

The fundamental point is, beyond the correctness of its action in the Kasab’s case, no
great political mileage will accrue to the executive by speeding up the Afzal Guru’s case. This evaluation of the current situation could influence government to put this further on hold. Any sudden expedition shown with regard to Afzal Guru after the earlier dilly dallying will only confirm the misgiving that the Centre was all these days playing politics in major criminal justice decisions.

What is the likely fall-out of the execution? Pakistan may be rightly expected to express its annoyance at the ‘unfair’ hanging. It would actually lose credibility – if it had one -- by not issuing a few vitriolic statements for the consumption of the international media. Some retaliatory action against a few Indian prisoners languishing in Pakistan prisons cannot also be ruled out. The best that India could do under the present circumstance will be not to react to such immature outpouring by a discredited political establishment.

After all, our credibility in international forums is far higher.  I do not also rule out any LeT adventures on Indian soil in the next few days. It has enough sleeper cells in the form of the Indian Mujahideen cadres who are known to be itching for action despite some strong action taken against them. I am certain that the MHA has alerted all the States to intensify their vigil.

My consistent stand however is that law enforcement can do very little to protect the community against terror without ungrudging and organised citizen support. We know how weak policing at the grassroots in India is, with police stations not only being understaffed but becoming a prey to unabashed venality. This appalling situation casts a heavy burden on the Central government and its para-military forces. How long can the latter carry on this burden is anybody’s guess. Purposeful and swift police reforms devoid of politics cannot wait any longer.

(The writer is a former Director of the CBI, New Delhi)

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