Political execution

While the hanging of Afzal Guru, convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack case, in Tihar jail on Saturday, is considered to have brought closure to the case, many uncomfortable questions that attended the charges against  him and  marked his trial and later the handling of his mercy petition will not go away easily. Political parties have seen it as the right culmination of the due process of law, and some have indeed criticised the government for the delay in hanging him. Even a perceived popular sentiment that demands the strongest punishment for those who act in treason and challenge  national integrity and the foundations of the state is invoked to justify the execution. But Afzal Guru’s case is not an open and shut case for the award of the highest form of punishment, even without reference to the demand for abolition of death penalty.

The charge against him was that he conspired for and facilitated the attack on Parliament. Others who faced the same charges in the case were let off or awarded much less punishment. He did not get a fair trial, as there was no proper legal  defence for him in  the court.  There were loopholes in the evidence against him, which in ordinary course would have entitled him to the benefit of doubt. The Supreme Court even put it on record that the evidence was only circumstantial.  But there was agreement from the lowest to the highest court that he was guilty and deserved to be hanged. The government also ensured that he did not get a chance to challenge the rejection of his mercy petition to the President. It is reasonable to presume that there was politics at play and  electoral considerations had a role in sending Azfal Guru to his death.  If that is true, that would be cynicism of the worst kind.

Even where a person has killed another, or many others, in any circumstance or for any reason, there is no justification for taking his life. The provision for capital punishment is based on a primitive idea of retribution and should have no place in the statutes of a civilised society. Afzal  Guru did not kill, and there is no absolute certainty about his role in the events that he is said to have been involved in. Then why did he have to be executed? The question will haunt the nation’s conscience in the days and years to come.

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