Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The masterminds [of the 26/11 attack on Parliament] are still preening themselves in Pakistan - Hafeez Saeed the Let-JuD leader at large and spitting venom, and Lakhvi and six others undergoing an in camera trial that is still far from getting anywhere.

False Priorities

Ajmal Kasab’s hanging ends a chapter in the brutal 26/11 story but does not represent closure.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 25 November, 2012

The Opposition’s stalling the opening days of Parliament’s winter session when so much urgent business is long pending is deeply regrettable. The issue on FDI retail is bogus. It constitutes a legitimate executive decision that does not require parliamentary ratification and leaves States free to decide their course of action.  Dissatisfaction can find expression in a no confidence motion, which was resoundingly defeated as the first item of business. Why then insist on a separate vote on FDI.

When the brick and mortar of Parliament House was attacked by Pakistani trained terrorists in 2002, the BJP angrily described that as an attack on India’s democracy. And now here is a grossly irresponsible BJP once again destroying the very soul of Parliament. What astonishing hypocrisy as it gleefully does what the terrorists failed to do. Are state assemblies to be similarly vandalised and all anarchy to reign?

Ajmal Kasab’s hanging ends a chapter in the brutal 26/11 story but does not represent closure. Those who savagely worked nine triggers to take 166 innocent Indian and  foreign four years ago, are now dead, martyrs to no cause but a blind hatred. The masterminds are still preening themselves in Pakistan - Hafeez Saeed the Let-JuD leader at large and spitting venom, and Lakhvi and six others undergoing an in camera trial that is still far from getting anywhere.

Once the President rejected Kasab’s mercy petition on November 5, things moved fast. All procedures were meticulously followed, including informing Kasab’s family through diplomatic channels, transferring him to Yeravda Prison in Pune and performance of his last rites and burial by a Muslim priest. No “secrecy” was involved and due process was completed with dignity without attracting hostile notice vulgar “celebration”.

Those “humanists”, Indian and foreign, who criticise India for retaining the death penalty, are engaging in a separate debate.  Capital punishment is on the Indian statute book and the Supreme Court has ordained that the death penalty will only be awarded in “the rarest of rare cases” in accordance with the increasing emphasis on restorative rather than retributive justice. Kasab’s crime was certainly a “rarest of rare” case, compounded by neither remorse nor regret for the terrible crime he committed as a jihadi mercenary.

The Kasab execution has also rekindled debate on the fate of others on death row for longer periods and whose mercy petitions remain pending in a sequential “queue”. Afzal Guru, who was involved in the attack on Parliament House in 2002 has been singled out for special attention. Some argue that his complicity was of a lower order and the evidence against him not watertight. Apart from being special pleading, there can be no room to question the verdict confirmed by the Supreme Court. The clamour for mercy is in fact political and delay has only aggravated politicisation of an essentially judicial matter on extraneous grounds that some in J&K may not take kindly to the event, witness the trouble that erupted when Maqbool Butt was executed. Surrender to blackmail is simply not an option.

There is also an element of dishonestly and hypocrisy about foreign humanist groups criticising the Kasab execution as out of step with world trends. India was with the US, Japan and Pakistan in rejecting a UN call last week to ban the death penalty, claiming that this was a sovereign decision that must be left to each country to take. Who hanged Saddam Hussain and many others after the Iraq invasion and the war in Serbia? Who objected on grounds of “humanism” ? What about the taking out of Osama bin Laden and many others who have been executed from the air? These are double standards.

The other strange event preceding the Kasab hanging was the state funeral accorded to the Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray. State funerals, one would have thought, are a national honour reserved for the good and the great. Bal Thackeray was a divisive, parochial, hate-monger, who was responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the terrible Mumbai killings of 1992-93. He indulged in the politics of fear and used his “Marathi manoos” goons to terrorise others.

Many were quick to condemn the police who arrested young, Shaheen in Palgar, who queried on Facebook why Mumbai was being shut down for one man. A friend, Rini,  agreed with her. Both were kept in the lock up overnight and only released the next day after paying a fine. Meanwhile, hospital of Dr Khan, Shaheen’s uncle, was vandalised by a couple of hundred Shiv Sainiks. Shaheen later stated that she had been wrong and that Thackeray was a great man. The girl had obviously been terrorised into retracting her comment. Everybody criticised the police for gross over-reaction. But few, if any among the pontificating media and panellists, made the point that Mumbai was shut down because the state Government, as in the past, feared Sena violence and mayhem. What is the message that is being sent out? Now some Sainiks are demanding a Thackeray memorial at Shivaji Park, which Dadar residents are rightly resisting. What values do we honour.

“Secular” pandering to communal forces has become commonplace. There was a clash in Delhi’s Gurdwara Rakabganj recently following rival tensions over a proposal to amend the current SGPC election rules on the eve of the forthcoming gurdwara elections. Merits apart, why in this day and age should the Government be legislating on gurdwara management?  Likewise, what is one to make of a Civil Aviation Ministry affidavit on Haj travel before the Supreme Court which has been reported to read as follows: Subsidies by Air India are incurred “purely on the basis of benefit for the Hajis who should revel in the glory of  their pilgrimage with minimum burden on their shoulders  as well as with as many benefits as the government can provide”. The Government might legitimately facilitate the Haj but why subsidise it against Islamic tenets? Matching this is the subsidy given to pilgrims to Kailash-Mansarowar. A couple of years back the Andhra government reportedly offered to subsidise Christian pilgrims going to Bethlehem but wisely backed off from the idea.

Why this competitive communal indulgence all round? On November 6, Mahant  Adityanath  of Gorakhnath, a BJP MP, demanded that Nepal’s  “Hindu status” be restored after it lost the sobriquet as the world’s only Hindu Kingdom. And then a textbook horror.  A Class VI book brought out by a Delhi publisher warns, “Non-vegetarians beware! Your food causes you to easily cheat, tell lies, forget promises, be dishonest, steal and commit sex crimes”. The NCERT has been asked to look into the matter. In another instance, a Chennai teacher has been suspended for the academic year for reciting a Hindu prayer is Class XII. What is the crime here? A prayer of any faith recited to seek the Almighty’s blessing for all is surely no crime. Growing up in ignorance of others’ faiths hardly promotes secularism. On the contrary. How silly can we get?

The crudity and contempt with which secularism is practised is cause for concern.

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