When Politics Overtakes Justice

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Politics, as they rightly say, is a heartless exercise. But, never before, one would have seen politics reducing to such a brazen act of injustice and unlawfulness. With the execution of Afzal Guru, our secular democratic government has earned this dubious distinction. However, it is heartening to see that the sober and sensible section of our society has not kept mum as it is not ready to stomach this grave injustice in the name of “a tough message” to the menace of terrorism. The incessant flow of their outburst and open resentment in national press has somewhat saved the honor and dignity of the nation. Mr. Gopal Subramaniam, the government prosecutor, who had succeeded in obtaining the capital punishment for Afzal Guru by the court of law also figures prominently among those conscience-stricken personalities who have voiced their grievances over the Afzal Guru hanging (see Times of India, Feb 13, 2013). Replying to a question, Mr. Subramaniam has observed, “Government should not have suddenly executed Guru”. Further, the newspaper writes, “In a civilized society, he expected the rule of law and transparency to be followed till the execution of death penalty”.  

Afzal, as everybody knows, was arrested and sentenced to death for allegedly conspiring to attack our Parliament twelve years back. The Supreme Court not only endorsed his death sentence but also underlined the need to implement the court verdict with the observation that the attack on Parliament was such a heinous crime that the “collective conscience” of the nation cannot be satisfied by anything but capital punishment despite insufficient material evidence. It goes without saying that the Supreme Court observation in the matter has made the implementation of his death penalty inevitable. But, despite the apex court’s assertion, the mercy petition filed by the family of Afzal Guru was kept in cold storage for about seven years from October 3, 2006 to February 2, 2013. The decision to reject this mercy petition was issued only on February 3, 2013. What else can you call it except an act of politicizing a purely judicial matter? The government seems to have some political agenda which required to keep this execution in suspended animation for the most opportune time. The inordinate delay in carrying out the impending execution of Afzal Guru provided a good propaganda tool to the principal opposition party (BJP) who kept on utilizing the same against the government time and again. But, neither the BJP diatribes could make the government move nor the most appealing human consideration that keeping a convict on the death row for years together could cut the ice.  

For almost seven years, the status-quo is maintained. Then, in the early 2013, there comes the Maha-Kumbh festival along the banks of river Ganga. Coincidentally, this year also sounds the bugles for 2014 general elections in the country. Political parties start making their moves, keeping the ensuing parliamentary elections in mind. BJP & company utilizes the Kumbh congregation to raise the tide of Hindutwa against the Central Government. In its quest to launch a counter-move, the government at the center brings out the Afzal Guru Execution case and obtains speedy approval of the President to reject the mercy petition. All legal and technical formalities that were required to file a review petition in the court against the decision and to allow his family to have a last meeting with Afzal before the execution are kept aside. Finally, in a sheer political move, Afzal Guru is hanged in the early hours of February 9 in complete secrecy so much so that even his family members come to know of his execution through radio and TV channels like any other person across the country.  

It is said that the family of Afzal was informed through Speed Post. But, now it is a proven fact that the fateful letter was delivered to them two days after the execution on February 11 only. Some of the legal experts have raised the point that “the jail manual certainly prescribes for postal communication but there is no mention to prohibit any other means of communication. In the absence of sufficient time span, a quicker communication means like mobile phones could have been used as the jail manual does not bar the use of alternative means”. I would like to add here that how did the authorities who are vigorously quoting “postal communication” from the jail manual overlooked the provision of the same manual which provides opportunity for a final meeting of the convict with his family members. Further, the convict is also entitled to be given a chance to challenge the rejection of mercy petition in the court of law.  

This broad daylight murder of justice and gravest violation of human right can take place only when politics overtakes justice. Otherwise, the very concept of government is primarily required to ensure justice and parity among all sections of the society. It is the institution of government that sets up courts and holds responsibility for the enforcement of rule of law in any country. What message has this murder of justice sent to the people of Kashmir who are already nursing a lot of grievances against us on violation of their rights? The government in Delhi, irrespective of whether it is being run by Congress or some other party, is never tired of repeating that Kashmir remains the integral part of the country. But, practically, they never do anything to end their sense of alienation. Even in the case under discussion, the government’s refusal to hand over the mortal remains of Afzal Guru is an indirect pronouncement that it has greatly provoked the Kashmiris, and heavens would have fallen if his body was sent to Kashmir. It is under this fear that the family of Afzal Guru is now being deprived of their right to carry out his last rites as per the Islamic tenets.  

We have already stated that keeping a convict of death sentence for seven long years on the death row is a highly cruel practice. Before the conclusion of this piece, the newspapers highlighted the news of four aides of Veerappan who were sentenced to death in 2004 and their mercy petitions were rejected on February 12 this year. Their lawyer has rushed to the Supreme Court to file review petition on the plea that owing to the inordinate delay in carrying out the sentence awarded to their clients, their death sentence should now be commuted to life-term. Admitting the review petition, the Supreme Court has now issued stay orders against the execution. If this petition gets through in the court of law, the execution of Afzal Guru will prove totally illegal!      

The writer is a non-resident Indian. He can be mailed at [email protected]

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