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OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.
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The Supreme Court rejected on Friday the final plea of Mohammed Afzal, sentenced to death for helping to launch the December 13th 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. Terrorist Mohammed Afzal Guru, condemned to death for his role in the Dec 13, 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament, Friday exhausted his last legal avenue with the curative petition in the Indian Supreme Court.  After an in-chamber hearing this evening, a four-judge bench of Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal and Justices K G Balakrishanan, B N Agarwal and P P Naolekar ruled that the “plea had no merits.” President APJ Abdul Kalam alone can save Mohammad Afzal Guru from the noose now. 

Offstumped examines the political issues that will guide the Manmohan Singh lead UPA Government as it prepares to advise the President on the mercy plea.

The public debate against the Afzal Death Sentence has been primarily on 3 broad arguments. In the first group are the the usual arguments against capital punishment and humanitarian considerations, this group views everyone advocating for the death sentence, as baying for Afzal’s blood and blood thirsty. In the second group were those who viewed the entire judicial process as a kangaroo court and have argued that Afzal did not get a fair trial, this group paid little attention to the extent to which they were undermining the Supreme Court and cared little that they were actually legtimising the arguments forward usually by the terrorists on the unfairness of the Indian State. The Supreme Court’s rejection of the curative petition should shut this group of individuals that has the likes of Barkha Dutt  and Arundhati Roy in it once and for all.

The third group is the one that is likely to have the most influence on the UPA Government for its arguments are purely political. Lead by veteran journalists like Premshankar Jha and Kashmir Valley politicians from Farooq Abdullah to Ghulam Nabi Azad they have been arguing that the death sentence be commuted in the interests of the Kashmir peace process and to prevent the rise of another wave of violence. Offstumped had on October 10th 2006 http://offstumped.nationalinterest.in/2006/10/20/clemency-for-afzal-should-kashmir-peace-process-influence-the-presidents-decision/ argued why political considerations must not be the basis to commute a death sentence. The prospects of the UPA Government heeding this argument appear slim given the current sequence of events.

There is a pattern beginning to emerge from recent events on the seriousness with which the Congress is taking the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. While the congress is considered a long shot in the current 4 way race, the congress it appears is nothing to chance in laying the groundwork for its revival in UP. Starting with the well thought out attempts to woo the Muslim vote bank with the Sachar Report and the subsequent proposals on first claim for Muslims on development funds, the Congress has been sending out the right signals to the estranged community to shore up its prospects ahead of the UP elections. The most recent sequence of events in UP with the NOIDA Nithari killings and Ajit Singh’s RLD withdrawing from the UP Government the congress is pulling all stops to make a comeback. Now throw into this mix the question of death sentence to Afzal ? It is highly unlikely the Congress would want to spoil the party ahead of the UP Polls and give Mulayam Singh a Muslim issue to beat it with. Given the momentum building up towards peace talks with Pakistan and the impending Pranab Mukherjee visit to be followed by a Manmohan Singh visit the government would be glad to tuck away Afzal to a dark corner in Tihar away from the hangman’s noose.

The only silver lining to the clouds of clemency hovering over that dark corner is the Supreme Court’s recent verdict that executive clemency is not outside the realm of judicial review. Offstumped had on 27th september 2006 http://www.bloggernews.net/2006/09/parliament-attack-death-sentence-to.html analyzed at great length the comprehensive case made by the Supreme Court on why the december 13th attack was an act of war on the nation and Afzal’s role in it merited the death sentence. So the Government would be well advised to make sure its reasons for clemency which in all likelihood would be on political considerations are well grounded legally if it were to choose to go down that path. The absence of a precedence makes things even more uncertain. But the real million dollar question is if the UPA were to grant clemency to Afzal, would there be a backlash in the rest of the nation and if so how strong. The BJP has made its position very clear on this issue. The question however is if the rest of the nation will be equally outraged to ring alarm bells for the Congress.

A lot depends on how things will shape up in the days to come. From the UPA’s inept handling of ULFA, the near burial of 7-11 ghosts and the vigour with which it is pursuing the anti-terrorism mechanism with Pakistan there is enough fuel for political fire. The recent Negroponte remarks on Pakistan being a safe haven for Al-Qaeda adds further to it. All that remains is a spark to fire things up. That spark could very well come from the terrorists who could strike pre-emptively with a replay of Kandahar to negotiate Afzal’s freedom.

Offstumped Bottomline: The Afzal Time Bomb is ticking while the UPA equivocates on whether to hang him or not. With Breakfast in Amristar, Lunch in Lahore and Dinner in Kabul, there may not be much of an appetite left in the Congress for Afzal’s neck. The BJP is biding its time waiting for the impending backlash. The only point of speculation is whether the terrorists will strike pre-emptively to free Afzal or if the Government will wilt first and grant clemency.

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