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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
     CURRENT ISSUE DECEMBER 25, 2006
 
   NATION: AFZAL EXECUTION
 

Hanging in the Middle

As the nation remembers the brave soldiers who laid down their lives protecting Parliament from a terrorist attack, the death penalty of main accused Afzal becomes a volatile issue

 
  PICTURE SPEAK
ANGUISHED: M.S. Bitta (centre) with relatives of the slain soldiers
It was a heartrending scene. Five years after the terrorist strike on the Indian Parliament, the families of the eight security personnel slain in the attack on December 13, 2001, collectively returned the gallantry medals to the President, protesting against the delay in the execution of the main accused Mohammed Afzal. Ganga Devi, the widow of martyr Nanak Chand, conveyed the sentiments of the aggrieved families most succinctly: "We did not order execution of Afzal. The court did. This vile politics over his death sentence, which is being delayed, has led us to return these medals." A little earlier, outside the Parliament House, mps, led by Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, paid homage at the spot where security personnel had laid down their lives.

The poignancy, however, was limited to outside the walls of the Parliament. Inside the House the UPA Government was battling hard to explain the delay in the decision over the clemency petition filed by Afzal. Seizing the opportunity, BJP-Shiv Sena members staged a walkout from the Rajya Sabha saying it was a national shame that gallantry medals were being returned. This was not the first walkout. On December 12, Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani raised the issue and said, "The Government should decide on the mercy petition of Afzal by December 13." Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi counterattacked saying that Advani, the then home minister, had failed to protect Parliament while Home Minister Shivraj Patil said the main Opposition BJP was provoking the relatives of the martyrs. Patil then raised the political rhetoric citing the delay of over five years in delivering justice to the killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi during the BJP-led NDA regime.

PATH TO THE GALLOWS
The fate of Mohammed Afzal has been oscillating between judicial decisions and political considerations

August 4, '05
The Supreme Court upholds the high court's decision of hanging Afzal.

October 3, '06
Afzal's wife Tabassum files a mercy petition to the President of India.

October 4, '06
Union Home Ministry talks to Delhi Government regarding Afzal's mercy petition.

October 14,'06
Farooq Abdullah says that the hanging of Afzal may create communal tension

December 13, '06
Families of martyrs return gallantry medals. Afzal files a curative petition in Supreme Court.



  POLITICS OF THE LOOP

"There is a need to guard against politics done in such cases."

SHIVRAJ PATIL
UNION HOME MINISTER

"What needs to be done immediately is to carry out the court's orders."

L.K. ADVANI
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, LOK SABHA

Interestingly, the Left parties, which normally participate in debates on issues of public concern, were somewhat unwilling to get involved. Early last week, Left leaders had met the Congress high command at the UPA-Left Coordination Committee meeting but CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan later insisted that the subject was not broached. In fact, after the Supreme Court's conviction on Afzal, Bardhan had said Left leaders had asked home minister Patil if the death sentence could be turned to life term. Citing past instances of over two dozen mercy petitions pending with the President's office, CPI(M) leaders also made brief interventions inside the Parliament. Both Communist parties were careful not to undermine the importance of the apex court and maintained that all cases should be made to follow the normal procedure of law.

Thanks to the obsession of the UPA Government with quotas and minorities, it appears that the charge of the Opposition that the Government is playing politics, sticks. At least the perception seems to be that electoral expediency is ruling over what was the worst terrorist attack in Delhi. With assembly elections round the corner-particularly in politically sensitive Uttar Pradesh-political parties have upped the ante.

But there is also a problem with the process. Clemency petitions have no time limit. There are 23 mercy petitions involving 44 convicts pending. Patil said in the Parliament that the clemency petition for Afzal was filed on October 3 and the Centre was waiting for the views of the Delhi Government (which was asked for its views on October 4). Home Ministry officials reveal that till December 13 there was no response. "An early decision on the mercy petition is unlikely," said Patil. An added complication is a recent judgement that requires the Government to tread carefully while considering clemency petitions. "The Government will not tilt to this side or that side. We will do our duty in a correct manner. The only thing which we have to guard against, is the politics done in such cases," said Patil.

  PICTURE SPEAK

REMEMBERING THE HEROES: MPs assemble to pay tribute to martyrs

Clemency petitions have no time limit. There are 23 mercy petitions involving 44 convicts pending.

As the din continued inside Parliament, outside human rights activists, political outfits of Jammu and Kashmir and NGOs against capital punishment jumped into the fray in Afzal's favour. They naturally triggered a retaliation. Various organisations like M.S. Bitta's Anti Terrorist Front and some Hindutva hardliners like RSS and VHP are demanding immediate execution of Afzal. N.M. Ghatate, senior advocate and the former member of the Law Commission, who was heading a panel to suggest the mode of death penalty, says, "The people who are advocating pardon of convicts do not consider the human rights of the victims."

The decision, though, will now have to wait anyway. In a desperate last-ditch effort before the President decides his clemency petition, Afzal has moved to the Supreme Court seeking a review of his death sentence. A curative petition is the last option before a convicted person to get a verdict re-examined by the court. In the petition, filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising and drafted by Kamini Jaiswal, Afzal contends that he did not get a fair trial in the case on which the capital punishment was upheld by the superior courts. He has sought curing the defects in the verdict on the grounds that the Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution has been violated. The curative petition may provide Afzal with temporary respite, but it is unlikely that the issue will die down.

 RELATED STORIES

Parliament Attack: Politics Over Clemency

Death Penalty: Hung Verdict

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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
CURRENT ISSUE
DECEMBER 25, 2006
 IN THIS ISSUE
COVER STORY

Sensational. Shocking. Tabloid. Exclusive. Tamasha News

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Getting Personal

Hanging in the Middle

Why We Should Go Ahead

Against National Interest

Ending the Isolation

Internal Injury

Withering Away

Investment Speedbreaker

Deep Waters

Southern Express

For Home, A Fistful Of Dollars

Life After 14k Surviving The Ride

Dancing On Safe Ground

The Grassland's Great Hope

Outclassed, Outrun

Divisional Managers

Sales Pitch

Mate Value

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