Politics in death penalty

Afzal Gurus hanging

Politics in death penalty

One had always heard pejorative remarks about politics and morality being distant neighbours, notwithstanding the life long struggle by Gandhiji to have some kind of connect between these. This was demonstrated with a telling effect in the way Central government has dealt with the case of Afzal Guru who was held guilty in the attack on Parliament and sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in 2005.

The lower court thereupon fixed  October 20, 2006 as date of execution. However Guru’s wife filed a mercy petition before the president, who after giving personal hearing to her, asked for some clarifications from the home ministry.

Guru had also in 2006 sent a petition through the jail to the president. He never received any reply to this application, but nevertheless was hanged on the morning of February 9, 2013. Excepting for few officials, none including the family of Guru knew of the impending execution. I am personally against the death penalty. But even if we have death penalty, the manner in which hanging has been carried out in this case certainly outrages principles of humanity.

I am also concerned with the low in politics where hanging of one person becomes the subject of slanging match between two major political parties the Congress and the BJP. For the last so many years BJP has ad-nauseam made the issue of hanging of Guru as one of its major political strategies and to seek to project the delay by the Congress government as unpatriotic and most mischievously, as a Muslim appeasement question. Congress was upto now explaining the delay as an administrative question. But it would appear that core group of Congress decided that it was necessary to hang Guru to counter the challenge of BJP, because of the proximity of general elections.

Having so decided the UPA government went about Guru’s hanging in the vilest of human rights violations. Nowhere in the world, where a modicum of rule of law exists, can the government hang its citizen without informing his family prior to it and allowing them to meet him. Human dignity of Guru was violated by denying him this right. Government’s clumsy claim that a speed post was sent from Delhi to Guru’s family in J&K was a convoluted explanation. Admittedly letter was received by the family on two days after  Guru had been hanged. Can one even imagine the deep permanent scar left on the family, especially the wife and small child?

I have no doubt that there was premeditated decision by the home ministry not to allow the family to meet Guru (because this would become public knowledge) and presumably it will naturally result in some demonstrations especially in J&K and Delhi. Admittedly, home minister Shinde telephoned J&K chief minister a couple of days earlier informing him of the decision to hang Guru and asking for his reaction – Omar is stated to have raised no objection. What more proof is required to show complete disregard for well established norms by the government?

Normal feature

This hush-hush on the plea of security is laughable. No doubt there would have been some demonstrations and protests, but so what—it is a normal feature in democracies, unless it is the government’s plea that its security machinery is so incompetent that it could not deal with demonstrations by angry supporters of Guru and that it also apprehended a Navy Seal like expedition done by the US government in Pakistan by the supporters of Guru.

Bonafides of the government’s intention to hang immediately is also being questioned, considering that the government knew that the Supreme Court was still examining the question that if there is delay of over two years in disposing of the mercy petition, no execution should take place -- in Guru’s case delay is over 7 years – was not that enough reason to suspend the hanging of Guru in the meanwhile.

The killers of Indira Gandhi were allowed to meet their family members before being hanged. Has the functioning of Central government become so sullied that their own precedents have no relevance?

Even now with all this inhuman and defenceless exercise, the Central government is refusing to return the body of Guru to the family. Both in law and morality, the family is entitled to the body of Guru so that it can be buried with all the religious ceremonies at a place of their choosing, so that  they can visit the grave like others can. No silly prison rule to refuse the body to the family on the puerile excuse of public disorder can be pleaded in defence. The government in order to conceal its own insensitivity and violation of human rights has got caught in its own web and succeeded in projecting Guru in death larger than in life.

The Central government should not muddy the situation any further. It has already allowed itself to be cornered by the BJP in the communal cauldron, inviting a legitimate comment that in the matter of belief in secularism, the difference between BJP and Congress is that between tweedledum and tweedledee – the former being openly anti-secular and the later being also the same but concealing it under a thin ice which dissolves at the altar of electoral strategy.

As an epilogue, we should consider that instead of the governments repeating in future such nauseating violation of the human rights,  India should follow the course followed by at least 140 countries which have abolished the death penalty and have put a moratorium on any more hangings.


(The writer is a former chief justice of Delhi high court)

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