Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma


Compounding its shameful act of executing Mohamed Afzal Guru on February 9, 2013, the Government committed a series of equally shameful (and shamefully petty) actions before and after the execution – refusing to let Afzal’s family meet with him before his death, sending the notice of execution to his family via Speed Post instead of a phone call, burying the body in a secret grave inside the jail instead of returning it to the family – and behaved, in general, with a complete lack of transparency so that the condemned man was given no chance to challenge the President’s rejection of his mercy petition, which was constitutionally open to judicial review.


There are two main issues about this episode that demand comment: the first is the question of Afzal’s guilt, the way his role in the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament was legally established through the kind of investigation carried out by the Delhi police; the second is the timing of the execution itself. Questions related to the latter were raised after news of Afzal Guru’s death became known, when reporters asked the Home Minister why Afzal was executed when the convicted killers of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and late Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, whose murderous acts were committed 10 and 15 years, respectively, prior to the attack on Parliament are still alive. Regrettably, the Home Minister’s reply to this question was both incoherent and indefensible. His claim that the cases of Rajiv Gandhi’s and Beant Singh’s assassins are still undergoing judicial review begs the questions of why Afzal was denied this process.


Many accounts of the utter inadequacy of the legal process by which Afzal was declared guilty have appeared in newspapers and books. The general conclusion that could be drawn is that apart from Afzal’s coerced confession to the police there is no independent evidence that corroborated the prosecution story in this case. The fact that his three co-conspirators, who were also accused by the police as being the “brains” behind the attack on Parliament, were acquitted by the Court completely knocked the bottom out of the prosecution’s case. Afzal’s problem was two-fold: he had essentially no legal representation during the trial phase and, as a surrendered ex-militant of the JKLF, he was extremely vulnerable to manipulation by the various police agencies. He had to mark regular attendance at the camp of the Special Task Force in Kashmir and was intimately known to the security forces in the Valley. Anjali Mody (see article below), who covered his trial in 2002 as a correspondent, stated in a recent article in the Hindu (February 10, 2013) that during the trial “A question that was never asked, and therefore never answered, was how was it that the security forces did not know of Afzal’s movements, associations, and plans, given that they kept close tabs on him, picking him and holding him in illegal custody whenever they chose.” It is hard not to accept the conclusion that Afzal was a convenient scapegoat for the failure of the authorities to locate the true culprits.


All executions perpetrated by the State are inherently political despite the veneer of legality and justice that is applied to legitimize the act. So one can speculate as to the political motives underlying Afzal’s hanging when the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh have managed to escape execution so far. The first motive is clearly the approach of the next elections and the desperation of the Congress to deflect the increasingly shrill propaganda of the Hindutva brigade on this issue. Thus, despite the riots and disturbance the hanging of Afzal might cause in the Kashmir Valley, the government likely decided that executing him would have a bigger pay-off for the UPA in defusing this issue for the BJP in the forthcoming election. The other possible motive is probably the government’s eagerness to divert public attention from the aftermath of the rape-murder of the young woman medical student in December, in particular the recommendations of the Justice Verma commission set up following the incident that call for the repeal of certain provisions of the AFSPA, which shield army and paramilitary personnel from trial in rape cases.


By executing Afzal Guru, the government is essentially closing the book on the case of the attack on Parliament, an event that almost brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a nuclear war, when the true perpetrators and their motives underlying this event remain unknown and undiscovered. This is perhaps the most shameful act of all; hanging someone whose connection to the attack on the Indian Parliament was, if it was anything at all, as a low-level minion, is tantamount to the State washing its hands of its responsibility to uncover the real masterminds of the dastardly act. This is deeply troubling for many reasons but most of all because it reflects a mindset that seeks to cover up the shocking inadequacies of the investigating agencies, which seek to find and convict scapegoats rather than perform the hard work of discovering the actual perpetrators of these outrages.

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