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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

A public announcement would have quite probably led to mobilisation by protesters and separatist elements and varieties of “activists” to drum up collateral political demonstrations, stage appeals and enforce bandhs, some of which were predictably manifest after the event

Crime and Punishment

Following Afzal Guru’s execution people have cried foul, decrying the “secrecy”. From whom? Did anybody expect an advance announcement for a gala carnival?

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 17 February, 2013

Now Veerappan’s aides have approached the Supreme Court for relief after their mercy petitions were rejected by the President on account of long delay from the initial sentencing to death, a gross system fault. Nonetheless this merry-go-round is a farce that must be ended.

A chapter had closed with the execution of Afzal Guru. But it would seem from some of the screaming media headlines and commentaries that the man was more sinned against than sinning and that the real crime was not his hand in planning the dastardly attack on Parliament House in 2001 but the fact that he was hanged in secrecy and in a manner “unfair to Kashmir”. A great human rights violation, cried some! Why? Examine the facts.

First, the charge of “secrecy”. From whom? Did anybody expect an advance announcement for a gala political carnival? Such reactions are now commonplace. The family in Kashmir was informed by speed post, an absurdity in contemporary times. The intimation was understandably received after the event, unless that was the intention for “security” reasons. A timely police or administrative messenger would have been more appropriate. But was anybody in doubt that Guru was on death row albeit with a long-pending mercy petition?

A public announcement would have quite probably led to mobilisation by protesters and separatist elements and varieties of “activists” to drum up collateral political demonstrations, stage appeals and enforce bandhs, some of which were predictably manifest after the event. A simple though rarest of rare act of justice would have once again been turned into a political circus and law and order problem. This was best avoided and precautions were taken to contain ugly street reactions by sundry elements out to exploit the situation for nefarious ends.

So much for “secrecy”. Then, “Why was the body interred in Tihar Jail and not returned to the family”? Because there are mischievous body-snatchers around. Does anyone remember Abdul Ghani Lone’s body being ghoulishly snatched from the very arms of his grieving family by joyful separatists, who assassinated him in the first place for preaching moderation and peace with India? Or Maulana Farooq, the late Mir Waiz, whose son, Umar, shamefully even today dares not name the known assassins of this father for fear of dire consequences for betraying the “cause”? Recall too the celebration of dead martyrs’ last rites by Khalistani terrorists willing to use any means to stir the pot. Such staged political drama and blood sport around a “martyrs” funeral is best avoided.

The family now refuses to pray over the grave of the dead man in Tihar Jail. They want the body to be taken to their village in Kashmir where separatists have prepared a grave for him in the “martyrs” cemetery.

Consider next the carpet coverage of the hanging and connected matters around the clock on February 9 to the total exclusion of everything else, followed by similar all-page displays and commentary by the print media the following day. Every last bit of fact, gossip and innuendo was dredged up to inform, titillate and excite audiences to win ratings. The hanging was hugely and irresponsibly politicised. All norms of self-regulation were set aside to blow up and incendiarise a hanging to portray something projected as a national, international and social crisis, leading to polarisation of opinion at a time when the nation should have stood united, firm as a rock in defence of its proudest values. For what was involved was not just the some loss of lives damage to the outer edifice, but the attempt to slaughter MPs and destroy Parliament, the symbol of Indian democracy.

Little was said about the nine innocent victims who defended “India” other than in passing. They were mocked in their hour of delayed justice by indirectly portraying the mastermind of the terror plot as some kind of hero who was denied a fair trial. Is that so? The case went through the magistrate’s court, the High Court and Supreme Court. A review petition was rejected in 2007. Due process was meticulously followed. Flaws in the prosecution of one accused led to his exoneration. Afzal Guru was conclusively found guilty. Should we now second-guess the Supreme Court? Whether the death penalty should remain or go is a separate debate. Perhaps it should go. But a court ruling on the basis of current law cannot be disregarded.

Then why have Beant Singh’s and Rajiv Gandhi’s killers not been hanged? The Tamil Nadu Assembly adopted a resolution seek clemency in the latter case while Prakash Singh Badal personally approached the President for similar leniency. Both represent cases of shabby, anti-national identity politics. The cry now is that “Kashmir has been discriminated against” as Guru was hanged ahead of the mercy petition “queue”. This is nonsense. A decision on his mercy petition was unconscionably delayed as in other cases as party politics and blackmail took over. No discrimination here. Only incompetence and lack of nerve. Political sparring on mercy petitions has been manifest on electoral and ethnic considerations. Extraneous issues are brought in regarding pleasing or annoying one faction or the other. Timing is suspect by some on the calculation that Guru’s hanging would be a set back to the BJP. Such arguments betray a pettiness of mind and puerile politics.

What then is the answer to mercy petition delays that are a travesty of justice? Parliament should resolve that henceforward all petitions be disposed of in three months or less. If not, the petition must automatically stand rejected and the condemned prisoner executed within a week without further appeals or interventions. Justice must prevail. Mercy decisions are hard to take. But decisions on such questions do not grow easier to take with time. Delay only offers opportunity for blackmail by anti-national malcontents who threaten reprisals. The state cannot kow-tow to terror or political arm-twisting. Speedy decision-making is the essence of governance.

The other excitement about the so-called Chopper scam has had the media and some politicians seeking to crucify Air Marshal Tyagi who has been named in Italian court papers but against whom absolutely no guilt has yet been proved. The operational specification were changed in 2003 by the NDA as stated by the Air Marshal and the Government for good reasons : VVIPs don’t need to fly at 18,000 feet and to avoid a single vendor situation. This IAF requirement was frozen in 2003 before Tyagi become the Chief and was accepted by the new UPA government. The deal was however only signed in 2006, when Tyagi was Chief, after the non-operational security fitment requirements for head space and so forth were frozen by the Special Protection Group and the MoD in which Air Hqrs was not involved. Yet the media has found Tyagi guilty and says he “blamed” the NDA. He did not and, in fact, went along with its decision when asked now, not as Chief, as this was no official concern of his, but as an observer.

Another case of bad journalism and trial by the media. Let the CBI investigation establish the facts. Tyagi has not been exonerated. But neither has he been found guilty. Await due process.

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