Was Afzal hanging a political decision? The debate rages on

The hanging of Afzal Guru, a surrendered militant suspected of masterminding the Dec 13, 2011 blasts targeting the Indian parliament, has sparked a partisan debate in India. The Indian government has been quick to rubbish charges of political considerations and has vigorously rebutted Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s allegation that the execution of Guru was selective. The government has underlined that the assassination cases of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Punjab chief minister Beant Singh had different contexts.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said at a press conference: “These cases are still under consideration before the judiciary. Hence, they are different.” Shinde also defended the secrecy shrouding the execution and said Afzal Guru’s family was informed two days before the hanging through speed post. The post reached the family Feb 11, two days after he was hanged. He rejected allegations that the hanging was a “political decision” and said the authorities went by the rule book.

The minister indicated that the government could consider a request by Afzal Guru’s family to offer prayers near the spot where he was buried in the Delhi prison.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari underlined that Afzal Guru’s case fell in the rarest of rare category and that the president had taken the decision to reject his mercy plea in his own wisdom. ”There can never be one size that fits all. In case of capital punishment, there is a need to be responsible, need to realise the facts and circumstance of each case. According to courts also, this was a rarest of rare case,” he said.

India’s chief opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Part (BJP) slammed Abdullah, accusing him of “provoking” sentiments in the Kashmir valley.

Abdullah, in an interview published in a newspaper Feb 11, triggered a blazing controversy by saying that the execution of Afzal Guru may increase the “sense of alienation” in the youth in Kashmir. He also said they may “identify with Afzal Guru”.

“Saying that youth in the Kashmir Valley will identify with Afzal Guru is an insult to the youth in the valley. They do not identify with Afzal Guru. They identify with cricketer Parvez Rasool and UPSC topper Shah Faesal,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.

“He (Omar Abdullah) said a young man of 43 was hanged. Six of the nine killed in the parliament attack were younger than Afzal. Why isn’t Omar’s heart crying for them but ia sympathising with Afzal? We condemn it,” Javadekar said. “To raise the issue of discrimination is nothing but provoking the situation in the valley. At least the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir should not do this,” he said.

The Congress, too, defended the hanging. “Three separate courts found him guilty. The Supreme Court upheld it,” Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit told reporters in New Delhi.

Shinde clarified that he had called Abdullah Feb 8 and informed him about Afzal Guru’s hanging. “Afzal Guru’s family was informed and the speed post was sent on the night of Feb 7. He was hanged Feb 9,” Shinde said. “We acted according to the rules,” Shinde said and added that speed post was sent by the jail officials.

Senior postal officials in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, said the speed post was received Feb 9 evening – Afzal Guru was executed at 8 a.m. Saturday – but delivered Monday as Sunday was a holiday.

Abdullah had told TV channels that the government and the judiciary will have to answer for Afzal Guru’s execution. He had also referred to cases of convicts in the assassination cases of Beant Singh and Rajiv Gandhi and said if targeting parliament was an attack on symbol of democracy, so was the attack on a chief minister and a former prime minister.

Answering queries, Shinde said he had cleared all mercy petitions sent to him by President Pranab Mukherjee. “All that came to me have been cleared,” he said.

Asked if Afzal Guru was a surrendered militant, Shinde said he did not go into such details while looking at his file. “I was concerned with evidence and what happened in the Supreme Court and the high court. That was my job,” he said.

Asked about possible retaliation from terror outfits against Afzal Guru’s killing, he said the government had to assess every possibility.