Voice from the Rooftop

Blog of Vincent Augustine D'Souza

Hanging of Afzal Guru

Afzal Guru was hanged on 9/2/2013. The hanging of Afzal Guru had many reactions, most of them predictable. One unpredictable reaction came from Ram Jethmalani. Before hanging he used to say Afzal Guru was innocent, there is no evidence against him. After hanging he said “Given the kind of crime he committed, he deserved death.” What about hanging Ram Jethmalani and lawyers like him for lying in court to save criminals? We need a law that holds lawyers accountable for lying.
Like in the case of Ajmal Kasab, people came to know of the hanging after it had taken place. It means government can keep secrets. The secrecy is due to busybodies who whenever there is a hanging to be carried out go to court and get a stay order on some excuse.
Some have questioned the timing of hanging. They think it is not a coincidence that the hanging took place before the budget session of Parliament just like Ajmal Kasab’s hanging took place before the winter session of Parliament. Some have welcomed the decision but have said the delay in inexcusable. Some have questioned the motive. They think Sushilkumar Shinde had talked of Hindu terror and had come under attack from Sangh Pariwar. Hanging Afzal Guru was to render that attack ineffective. Some say Narendra Modi’s rise has given jitters to Congress and the hanging was to deny him an issue. Some say BJP was surprised and the hanging took the wind out of the sails of BJP. Some said Congress is readying for election.
Ajmal Kasab was hanged five days short of four years after 26/11. Afzal Guru was hanged 11 years, 2 months, and 27 days after the Parliament attack. This exposes the hollowness of the claim that there is queue system for deciding mercy petitions.
Presidents have sat over mercy petitions refusing to heed Home Ministry’s advice. The correspondence between Home Ministry and Presidents should be made public. In many cases Home Ministry recommended rejection but Presidents did not oblige. When Pratibha Patil was President she accepted recommendations for commutation but did not act on recommendations for carrying out death penalty and refused to reject mercy petitions. Later Home Ministry agreed to commute death sentences to life imprisonments. May be we should repeal Article 72 of the Constitution which gives power to President to grant pardons, etc., and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases and Article 161 which gives similar power to Governors. Or we can have a board to decide mercy petitions where the views of family members of victims can veto the decision to grant mercy.
Hangings have taken place after Pranab Mukherjee became President and Sushilkumar Shinde became Home Minister. If P. Chidamabaram had continued has Home Minister Afzal Guru’s hanging could have taken place early and some more hangings were possible. Pranab Mukherjee had returned about a dozen recommendations of Home Ministry, including one on Afzal Guru, to Sushilkumar Shinde to know whether he agreed with his predecessor.
The hangings show the triumph of India’s majority against LADP (lobbies against death penalty). LADP had lot of air time on TV channels far in excess to their numbers. The silent majority asserted itself after Delhi gang rape case. LADP were effective in preventing Verma Committee from recommending death penalty for rape but the government which knows the mind of the majority included death penalty in the ordinance on sex crimes.
Family members of nine watch and ward staff members who died during Parliament attack wanted Afzal Guru hanged. They had protested the delay and returned the medals posthumously given to staff members.
MLAs, including chief minister and other ministers, of Punjab and Tamil Nadu Assemblies should be disqualified for passing resolutions against death penalties in Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh assassination cases. J&K CM Omar Abdullah raised the issue of them not being hanged. They would have been hanged if the rejections of mercy petitions and dates of hangings had been kept secret. Some questioned the delay in executions and High Courts admitted petitions and now the matter is in Supreme Court. States have to function as per Constitution, not against the Constitution. After Babri Mosque demolition, MP and Rajasthan governments were dismissed for not being in accordance with the Constitution and the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal.
Omar Abdullah said the Supreme Court judgment talks about satisfying the collective conscience of the society. You don’t hang the person to satisfy the collective conscience of the society. You hang somebody because his hanging satisfies all the legal requirements, not societal requirements. Omar Abdullah ignored the fact that satisfying the collective conscience of the society is in addition satisfying all the legal requirements because the restriction of death penalty to rarest of rare cases. Death penalty should be in all cases of murders and high crimes and not rarest of rare cases.

Updated: February 12, 2013 — 7:34 am

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