A Wound Revisited

The recent decision to commute the death sentences of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins and the subsequent decision of the Tamil Nadu government to set them free has refreshed the wounds of the Kashmiri nation. It has once again recalled the stealth and deviousness of the manner in which Afzal Guru was hanged inside the Tihar jail in February last year. Not that the Kashmiri people grudge Rajiv Gandhi’s killers their reprieve from the death sentence or their impending release from captivity. It is just that a comparison cannot be avoided between this decision and the other one, especially considering that in Afzal’s case the State jumped the queue –  Afzal, reportedly, was 25th in the list of prisoners on death row –  acted with undue haste.

It has been suggested, and rightly, so that Afzal was sacrificed by the Congress party at the altar of electoral politics. By executing Afzal Guru the ruling party obviously wanted to rob the extreme right opposition party of a major trump card. It is a different story though that even this ‘sacrificial offering’ has not mitigated the troubles of the Congress party which seems to be destined for a complete rout in the coming general elections, and is widely being seen as a sinking ship.

Afzal Guru’s family as well as his compatriots cannot but rue that justice was not done in his case. The fact is that justice was murdered at every step. In the very first place the whole case against Afzal was full of holes. Even the police admitted that the evidence against him had been fabricated. This admission in itself should have been enough to earn Afzal a lesser penalty, if not a complete acquittal. Afzal was hanged to satisfy the ‘collective conscience’ of the nation – a term that will stand out in history as signal mockery of the institution of justice.

Then again, the authorities made haste to execute him although there were others ahead of him on the death row. It is quite obvious that reprieve for Rajiv Gandhi’s and the Punjab CM Beant Singh’s assassins had already been decided upon. To make sure that the same concession could not be extended in Afzal’s case he was executed well before these pronouncements were made. Of course, it was elections and there prospects that decided the issue. Afzal’s execution would stand to the advantage of the Congress party, and letting off Rajiv’s killers could be a scoring point because of the LTTE’s Tamil connection. A similar reasoning holds true for not sending Beant Singh’s assassin to the gallows.

Afzal and his family were denied justice even at the time of his execution – which considering the basis on which it was carried out as well as the manner in which it was done could very well get it termed as a murder rather than an execution –  by denying them a final meeting. And this injustice continued even after his death by New Delhi’s refusal to hand over his mortal remains to his kin.

It would be foolish to presume that the government of India did this out of fears of “law and order problems” in Kashmir.  A ‘law and order problem’ in Kashmir is no longer a big issue for New Delhi; it takes its just a couple of hours to put the security apparatus in place to effectively thwart any protest. That Afzal’s grave or tomb would give Kashmir’s struggle a monument to rally around was not the reason either. If that were the case, the open graves kept for Maqbool Butt and Afzal Guru would serve this purpose even better. The refusal to hand over the mortal remains is a demonstration of hegemony, intended to serve as a reminder that it is New Delhi that dictates the terms and that the Kashmiri people have to bow to them. This unyielding stance is just yet another means to enforce New Delhi’s will in Kashmir and to send across a clear signal as to whose writ runs here. Otherwise given the state of affairs in Kashmir and its vacillating population it is pretty unlikely that returning Afzal’s mortal remains to his family would have had any untoward consequences for India.

As for the statements issued by local mainstream politicians in the wake of the reprieve granted to Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, it once again proves that they are a brazen-faced lot indeed. A similar drama was enacted by these politicians when Afzal was executed. The measure of their sincerity can be gauged from the fact that they were not even able to get back his mortal remains. Not that they bothered to make any efforts in that direction, except for lip service.