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The gunpowder blot 
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Illustration: Bhaskaran

TWO hangings and a few elections. Punishing politics! say human rights activists. Capital! say the government, the opposition and most of the political class.
No major political party has dissented with the decision to hang Afzal Guru. The communists have dissented with the manner, not the matter. The real dissenters, mostly apolitical activists, say the decision to hang Afzal was political. Of course, governments run by politicians have to be sensitive to political opinion. Governments run by generals don't have to.
Sushil Shinde says there was no politics behind the decision to hang Afzal. He means there was no electoral politics. Let us deny him the benefit of the doubt. There is politics behind every government decision, and there ought to be.
Not so in the case of judicial decisions. Judicial decisions have got to be free from politics. The sentencing of Afzal Guru was a judicial decision; the hanging of Afzal Guru was a political decision. The secret advice that Pranab Mukherjee received from Shinde, to reject Afzal's mercy plea, was deemed to be the political advice of the Manmohan government.
First about the judicial decision. Afzal Guru was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced by the fairest, maybe the slowest, court in the world. Activists and professional dissenters are now saying that he did not get a fair trial. Afzal's brief was open to every lawyer who wore a gown and had been called to the bar. None who offered to take it and none whom the court offered was acceptable to him. He wanted to play the martyr. Finally the court, in its compassionate wisdom, ‘imposed' one on him.
His appeals were argued by the finest and most passionate activist-lawyers, and were heard by some of the wisest judges in the world. Men who would let go a thousand rapists rather than send an ‘innocent assassin' to the gallows. Men who have been erring like all humans, but on the side of caution. Not even the bitterest critic of the Indian courts would say there was politics behind the conviction and the sentencing.
The disposal of the mercy petition was a political decision. The state, as the supreme political entity, had to decide whether it would be found lacking in will if it kept alive a man who had been found guilty, by the fairest and wisest judges, of partaking in a plot to blow up its Parliament. Three presidents, three home ministers and one chief minister (Sheila Dikshit), some of whom have been accused of showing mercy to 
murderers and rapists, thought, sat and slept over it for seven years. 
Finally they decided that he deserved the gallows.
The Gunpowder Plotters in King James's reign did not kill anyone. Yet Guy Fawkes and his Catholic comrades-in-crime were hanged, drawn and quartered for plotting to blow up the British parliament. Let's face it: Afzal Guru would have lived, maybe, if he had been guilty of murdering six brave constables and a gardener. Afzal Guru would have lived, maybe, if the target of the attack had been a lesser institution than the Parliament of India. Afzal's crime was not the rarest of the rare; it was the gravest of the grave. As grave as the Gunpowder Plot.
The impropriety was in the end. It is established law that the President's rejection of a mercy petition can be challenged in court. The killers of a prime minister and a chief minister are still alive in prison cells because they were allowed to avail of that law. Afzal was denied that chance.
This has hurt the Kashmiri sentiments. When actions of the state hurt its people, the ruler should reach out. King James, though firm, reached out to the Catholics, granted subsidies and saved England. His son forgot the lessons and brought about a civil war.
Please tick the first option, Prime Minister!

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