Preparing ground for Afzal shocker?

It will have serious and far reaching consequences in Kashmir

Wahid Ahmed
Publish Date: Dec 11 2012 12:00PM
The right wing Hindutva based parties have been taunting and cornering the UPA on the issue of Kasab’s hanging ever since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and could have become a major election plank for the BJP in upcoming state elections and later in the General Elections.
 “The aim of the hanging can only be attributed to the UPA’s efforts for satiating the collective desire of mainland Indian electorate and rendering its main opposition devoid of this key election plank”, says Zahid Mushtaq, editor of a Srinagar based Urdu daily newspaper.
Fortunately, for the UPA government, the death sentence didn’t have adverse fallout on domestic or diplomatic fronts. Many analysts believe such a step could only have been taken with a tacit approval from the Pakistan government as the hanging otherwise could have been responded by Pakistan through following suit on Sarabjeet Singh (an Indian citizen, on a death row in Pakistan).
However, noted political scientist Dr. Noor Ahmad Baba feels the Government of India is under pressure from different quarters including the opposition BJP to decide on hanging of 2001 parliament attack death row convict Afzal Guru as well. His apprehensions by no means look unfounded.
As soon as the news of Kasab’s hanging was broken on various news channels, politicians across the board started demanding a similar move in Afzal Guru case. Surprisingly, the rhetoric was initiated by none other than the seemingly pro-Muslim Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh. “Finally Kasab hanged. GOI should pursue the case of the Handlers in Pakistan. Afzal Guru's case should also be expedited (sic) now”, says Singh on twitter, as the news of Kasab’s hanging was broken. He attempted to draw political mileage out of the hanging. “Will Modi and BJP tell us why NDA Govt. didn't carry out death sentence to Rajiv Gandhi's killers, who were sentenced in 1998”, he wrote in another tweet.
Although BJP welcomed Kasab’s hanging, it soon questioned the central government over delay in executing Muhammad Afzal Guru. However, the UPA government seems to have decided to go for the slog and outdo the BJP on this count as well. “Afzal Guru’s file will not be kept pending for long. I will clear Afzal Guru’s file within 48 hours of its receipt”, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters in Delhi on Nov 21, after Kasab was hanged till death at Pune’s Yerwada Jail complex.
However, experts believe the adventurism of the Congress and the GoI being exhibited in Afzal’s case has to be supported by the government of Jammu and Kashmir, as it could have serious and far reaching consequences in the Kashmir valley, which has just seen two seasons of calm after three consecutive years of unrest and uprisings. “For this (decision to hang Afzal guru) the central government definitely needs a green signal from the state’s political leadership or at least from the ruling coalition government. It appears the state government, especially the National Conference has given into pressure from the centre”, feels Zahid Mushtaq.
His inference doesn’t seem unfounded if the recent statement of the National Conference President Farooq Abdullah is taken into consideration. “As far as I am concerned, the court has already decided. The Supreme Court has given its decision. The matter is now pending with the Home Ministry. The President has returned that (mercy petition) to the Home Ministry. Let's wait...Justice has to be done,” Abdullah said reacting to a question by reporters outside Parliament House on November 23.
The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah had in August last year raked a political storm of sorts through a tweet on micro-blogging website twitter, where he had written: “If J&K Assembly had passed a resolution similar to the Tamil Nadu one for Afzal Guru, would the reaction have been as muted? I think not,” Omar's tweet had come a day after the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed an unprecedented resolution asking the President to reconsider the mercy pleas of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's killers.
He had even gone on to express his apprehensions with regard to situation in the state in case of Afzal’s hanging. “I do have certain apprehensions what could happen if Afzal Guru was to hang. As CM my responsibility is to ensure a peaceful state. It is the Centre’s responsibility to look at the wider picture. My pure interest is in the situation in J&K,” Omar had said.
However, surprisingly, Omar seems to have given up on his earlier stand. Soon after the hanging of Ajmal Amir Kasab on Nov 21, Omar, in a veiled reference to hanging of Afzal Guru, wrote on micro-blogging website twitter: “I think I can now assume it's no longer a question of if but one of when”.
“You can call it the ugliness or beauty of politics. It is clearly a case of understanding the political compulsions of the Congress by the NC leadership, particularly the Abdullahs. They will get favours in return. Even the NC is in a political abyss and needs to keep the PDP at bay in the state”, opines Dr Abdul Hamid, a retired professor of Political Science based in Srinagar.
“The alliance in the legislative council elections and the talk of 2014 grand-alliance, all these things should be seen together with the Congress’ need to take Afzal issue out of the equation ahead of the 2014 General Elections. I think they are preparing ground for Guru’s hanging, which otherwise won’t be an easy decision for the centre”, he adds.
Dr. Noor Ahmad Baba believes hanging of Guru will have large-scale political implications in the valley. “People in Kashmir did not identify with Kasab but Guru, being a Kashmiri, will become a martyr for them. People will own him and many people even believe there is not enough evidence against him”, he opines.
National Conference Additional General Secretary, Dr Mustafa Kamal a few days back, when he questioned the move of hanging Guru, took the argument even further by giving it a communal twist. "How can you punish Afzal Guru when he was not even there? I have told this earlier as well. I feel there is an element of communalism in it. If he was not a Muslim, he would probably have been released by the court then and there. The thing would never have reached the President," said the uncle of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in a recent statement.
Kamal, however, was slammed by his brother and NC chief Farooq Abdullah for his controversial remarks. The Union Minister of New and Renewable Energy had said, "Justice has to be done. I don't know why Mustafa has to say all this rubbish."
However, Dr Baba believes the state government’s role in the decision of hanging ‘will be limited to handling law and order situation in the valley and preparing ground for the same’.  “It will have law and order ramifications, the extent of which can only be seen if and when it actually happens. Govt of India will also be wary about such as situation although they must be facing pressures from different quarters. It has to be GoI’s decision”, adds Baba.
The decision to hang Guru, it seems, will not be an easy one for the governments of India and J&K, keeping in mind the public sentiment in the valley coupled with the resistance from the separatist leadership.
The Hurriyat Conference (G) Chairman Syed Ali Geelani recently warned Government of India of dire consequences if it decided to hang Afzal Guru, asserting that if Guru is hanged, Kashmir will witness a “storm.” Geelani also termed Guru as a “hero of Kashmir.”
The JKLF Chairman, Yasin Malik on the same day said the decision to hang Guru could revive armed struggle in the state. "If the Indian state repeats its mistake (of hanging JKLF founder Mohammad Maqbool Bhat) and takes any wrong decision about Mohammad Afzal Guru, it will have disastrous consequences for the whole region”, he said in a press statement.
Calling Guru as innocent, separatist leaders, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Shabir Ahmad Shah have also warned the government against hanging Guru. They said such a step would jeopardize peace in the region and heighten tensions.
However, Musharaf Ahmad, a local lawyer believes it is justice which is more important than politics around it. “Farooq Abdullah says justice has to be done but it should seem to have been done on both sides. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial and it seems Guru hasn’t got the best of trials as many legal experts have pointed out loopholes in the process of trial and the sentence. Taking someone’s life for satiating public angst or consolidating vote bank would set the worst possible precedent for the times to come”, fears Ahmad.
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