LAHORE: Following the execution of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative Mohammad Ajmal Kasab for his involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the next in line to be sent to the gallows by the Indian authorities is a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) operator, Mohammad Afzal Guru.
Guru has already been handed down death sentence by the Indian Supreme Court in 2004 for his role in the December 13, 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi.The parliament attack, which had brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, was conducted jointly by five Fidayeen attackers belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. In a failed attempt to invade the parliament building and to eliminate India’s top political leadership, the attackers killed 12 people, including seven security forces personnel before being shot dead.
Afzal Guru was subsequently charged with conspiring and facilitating the attack besides harbouring Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists. He was arrested on December 12, 2001 and finally convicted on August 4, 2004 on the basis of his December 19, 2001 confessional account. Originally belonging to Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, Guru had allegedly travelled to Pakistan to receive terrorist training at a Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp.
After Kasab’s execution, the focus is back on Afzal Guru, who was to be hanged in 2006. He is lucky enough to have dodged the gallows for six years, mainly because of the fact that his mercy petition keeps shuttling between Indian Home Ministry and President’s Secretariat.
President Pranab Mukherjee recently sent back Guru’s mercy petition to the Home Ministry to ascertain if the incumbent Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and his predecessor P Chidambaram were on the same page in rejecting the clemency plea. However, calls for speedy hanging of Guru have grown louder hardly 24 hours after the execution of Kasab, amidst clear indications that his chapter will also come to an end very soon.
The Bhartia Janata Party (BJP) has already demanded that Guru’s mercy plea should be disposed of quickly and he be executed as early as possible.
The BJP President Nitin Gadkari has asked the Congress government as to why Guru had not been sent to the gallows yet. “Ajmal Kasab has been hanged. But it has taken a lot of time. I want to ask the government why the parliament attack accused Afzal Guru has not been hanged even after the lapse of a decade after the incident. Will the government implement the Supreme Court verdict on Afzal Guru? This government should clarify,” Gadkari said at a rally in New Delhi on Wednesday while accusing the Congress of doing vote bank politics.
On the other hand, the Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh has also demanded that Guru’s mercy plea be fast-tracked. Welcoming Kasab’s execution, Singh expressed the hope that the Indian government would now pursue the case against his under-trial handlers in Pakistan besides expediting the Indian Supreme Court’s decision on Guru.
Groaning under mounting pressure from both the ruling and the opposition parties, the Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde declared Wednesday that he wouldn’t sit on Guru’s file. “I will clear Afzal Guru’s file within 48 hours of its receipt,” he said a few hours after Kasab’s hanging.
On the other hand, there is a general feeling in the government circles of Jammu and Kashmir that sending Afzal Guru to the gallows could become a rallying point for the separatist elements in the state. The J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has expressed this fear several times, particularly with senior Indian government officials, drawing parallels to the strong reaction in Kashmir in the 1980s to the hanging of Maqbool Butt, the founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front who was executed at Tihar Jail in Jammu & Kashmir where Guru is being kept.
But at the same time, there are those who say there has been a sea change in the political environment since the hanging of Maqbool Butt who was a nationalist unlike Guru – a terrorist for whom the masses won’t show any sympathy — as had been the case with Kasab.
Although, 300-plus convicts are on death row in India, Kasab’s execution on November 21 was only the second hanging that the Indians have witnessed in the last 17 years, and the first one in eight years.
Interestingly, the death sentence of three assassins of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi continues to be pending over the last 11 years, even though it has been 21 years since he was killed by a Tamil suicide bomber on May 21, 1991 during an election rally. Following a humanitarian gesture by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who is Rajiv’s widow, the death sentence of the fourth assassin, Nalini Murugan, has already been commuted to life imprisonment.