The execution of Yakub Memon has not only triggered a lively debate on abolition of capital punishment but also exposed glaring chinks in our armour that render us extremely vulnerable in any fight against terror and make us prone to inadvertently but fatally subverting the rule of law. Let’s not waste time on the ‘usual suspects’—sidelined and frustrated courtiers whose desperation to somehow make headlines is symptomatic of obsessive compulsive disorder. Digvijaya Singh, Shashi Tharoor and Varun Gandhi are members of political parties that stand poles apart ideologically—or so they would like us to believe—but suffer from the same incurable foot in mouth disease. Some like Shashi try to do it with practised ‘elegance’, others like Diggy Raja remind one of an aged greased weasel whose tricks have become tiresome.
This writer is against death penalty. But that is another debate. Raking up other cases that have escaped the noose and tagging these with religious indicators is the height of irresponsibility. It is also sadly true that successive governments have failed to take action on the Shrikrishna report on the Mumbai riots, but that too is a longstanding grievance that requires a separate campaign to be effective. Let us not forget that just a little over a year ago, India was ruled by the UPA led by the stridently secular Congress. Nothing stopped it from accepting, following up and bringing to book the accused identified by Justice Shrikrishna. Many death row convicts whose life was spared by the President or whose sentences were remitted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court due to inordinate delay in deciding the mercy petition date to that period. It is naive, if not mischievous, to insinuate that the apex court has followed different standards in different cases. Different judges and benches are perfectly within their remit to interpret either the ‘rarest of rare’ doctrine or have contrasting views on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Split verdicts and dissenting judgments are not so rare.
What the SC has done in the past doesn’t bind the sitting judges at present. When retired justice Markandey Katju thunders to call this verdict a ‘travesty of justice’ he forgets that he is no more than a ‘Lion in Winter’. In this instance, the whole course of law was traversed, some stretches—review and curative petitions—trod more than once. To suggest that the long overdue ‘closure’ was ‘accelerated’ by a bloodthirsty mob comprising majoritarian ultra-nationalist fanatics only undermines people’s faith in the rule of law and it can only sow poisonous seeds of communal strife. It doesn’t matter who coined the term Hindu/saffron terror—some eager beaver in the Congress or a Left-leaning journalist. For 10 long years, Doc Manmohan was at the helm, propped by Sonia Gandhi, he had support of SP and BSP till the inglorious electoral defeat in 2014. What stopped that regime from pursuing those suspected of terrorist acts and prosecuting them? MS Bitta, a victim of terrorist attack, raises very pertinent points when he wants to know how many senior Congress leaders, who are eminent lawyers, had no qualms about defending individuals accused of heinous acts of terrorism. Most unfortunately, the Congress party’s ‘vote bank politics’ has hurt the nation more than it has wreaked havoc in the party.
The terrorist attack in Gurdaspur has once again underlined the tragic fact that we have learnt no lessons from past events. Chidambaram is quick to flag ‘intelligence failure’, but when he was in charge of the Home Ministry he made a subtly profound distinction between ‘available’ and ‘actionable’ intelligence. What is required is an all-party consensus on how to cope with terrorist attacks. The powerful stirrings of humanitarian, liberal, secular conscience that rise like a tsunami when a terrorist is executed after losing the legal battle conclusively drowns reason in pious platitudinous passion. Owaisi breathes fire to be matched by brimstone vomited by his ‘peers’ on the other side of the communal divide. Salim, perturbed by the irresponsible tweets of his son—the epitome of spoilt celebrity brat—is constrained to comment that the not-so-poor kid is being hit by a double whammy—he belongs to a minority community and is a celebrity as well. The tweet is the least of many rash and negligent acts—from hunting black bucks to ‘hit-and-run driving’—that Salman Khan is facing trials for.
As we end this piece, the sticker on the screen informs us that those who (mis)manage cricket in this land have decided to lift the ban on Shah Rukh Khan’s entry in Wankhede Stadium. We can’t help pondering that wasn’t the incident resulting in this ban also a case of celebrity-minority witch hunting.
Is it too much to expect from our media not to give equal weightage to terror and trivia?
Pushpesh Pant is a former professor of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi