If the Centre can call the shots on Kashmir, then why not on Punjab or Tamil Nadu? The question has been rightly raised by many, including Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. The J&K CM was worried that the execution of Guru would alienate the new-generation youths and rued that the man was not allowed to meet his family before he was hanged.
The National Conference (NC) leader has right reasons to worry. He made a pertinent point by asking the Centre to hang those convicted in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He also referred to the killing of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. Those cases took place much before the 2001 Parliament attack. Then why no hang them as well?
Abdullah did not spare the opposition BJP, either. He said the opposition had been shouting over Guru's hanging but why is it not equally vocal about executing Santhan, Murugan, Perarivalan or Balwant Singh Rajoana? All of them were given death sentence but the execution could not be carried out owing to political compulsions.
Will judicial decisions continue to be shaped by political expediency?
The BJP countered by saying that it was always in favour of strongly dealing with terrorism and accused the Congress of failing to take a strong decision because of electoral compulsion. It also said that it had maintained a distance with party leader Ram Jethmalani when he defended the convicted in Rajiv assassination case. But why is the party quiet on hanging Rajoana or Devinder Singh Bhullar? Just because it is an ally of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is against the hangings, in government?
The Punjab government said executing Rajoana could lead to disruption in law and order in the state and hence the order was stayed last year. Now, the Congress in the state is raising the demand for the execution and pressurising the SAD-BJP ruling alliance to make its stand on the issue clear. My be because it is feeling much relieved after carrying out two quick executions and is preparing to turn the barrel of the gun around.
Regional politics shaping issues of national importance
In August 2011, the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed a resolution demanding that the three killers of Rajiv Gandhi should not be hanged. Their execution was supposed to take place on September 9 but the Madras High Court stayed the order. The then Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid said the resolution was not binding but yet the execution could not be forced. Both the AIADMK and DMK, which otherwise lock horns over every other issue, backed the demand for not hanging Rajiv's killers at various points of time. Other regional parties in Tamil Nadu have also toed the same line.States start seeking amnesty for convicts through resolutions: Is TN's move justified?
The Tamil Nadu resolution set a bad precedent and Abdullah had tweeted just a few hours afterwards asking what would be the reaction if his government also passed a similar resolution on Afzal Guru? Engineer Rashid, an Independent MLA in J&K assembly, had indeed taken a cue from the Tamil Nadu assembly to move a resolution demanding amnesty for Guru in September 2011 but in February 2012, Rashid was marshalled out of the assembly on charges of creating ruckus and disrupting the House over his resolution.
The problem is that regional sentiments, which are increasingly influencing the course of national politics, identify the convicted criminals more than their offence and political forces can not afford to annoy these sentiments by making an objective stand to ensure a safe future. The situation consequently becomes difficult for the national parties irrespective of their broader perspective for they are becoming more and more dependent on regional forces today.
Narendra Modi has a good relation with J Jayalalithaa and would not want to put a probable alliance at peril and create hindrance on his way to becoming the prime minister, if the situation so permits. The Congress, on the other hand, would not have a big say either for its ally, the DMK, is equally not eager to enrage Tamil sentiments. The Gandhis have also shown an intent to pardon the offenders, another factor that might have discouraged the Congress to take up the issue strongly.
Politics serve complication, not sensitivity
The situation in Punjab is similar. There, separatist voices are seen to be on a revival course in the recent years and no party, not even the Congress, would opt for a collision course with the local sentiments. The fact that both Tamil Nadu and Punjab send more number of representatives to the Parliament than Jammu and Kashmir also make the regional politics in those states more complicated. Politics, after all, devotes itself more to complication than sensitivity. Hence, Guru lost out.