Twelve years after a terror attack on its parliament brought it to the brink of war with Pakistan, India Saturday executed Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru in a meticulously mounted operation kept completely under wraps.
He was hanged to death at 8 a.m. outside his cell in Delhi's Tihar Jail and buried quietly soon after for his role in plotting the audacious Dec 13, 2001 attack in which 10 people were killed when five armed terrorists stormed into the parliament complex when 100 MPs were inside.
Afzal Guru's end came just six days after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy petition on Feb 3.
The man from Doabgah (Seer) village near Kashmir Valley's Sopore town had known since Friday evening that he was to be hanged. He was woken up at 5 Saturday and he offered his prayers before calmly approaching the noose, officials in Tihar Jail said recounting his last hours.
He was buried quietly soon after, close to the cell he had spent so many years in solitary confinement. The Supreme Court had sentenced him to death in 2004.
As news spread of the execution - the second in India in just three months after the hanging of Pakistani Ajmal Amir Kasab for the Mumbai terror attack - scattered protests broke out in the Kashmir valley.
Curfew was clamped in major towns as police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in full battle gear fanned out. Several people were injured, two of them critically, in clashes with forces.
The moderate faction of the separatist group Hurriyat Conference called for four days of mourning. The hanging, it said, was "political killing which has nothing to do with the legal system of India".
The government explained that legal process was followed.
Tracking the development of the case, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said: "Afzal Guru's case was again sent to me by the president when I took over as home minister. I examined it in detail and I recommended it to president Jan 21 and the file came back to me from president Feb 3.
"It was sent for further execution by me Feb 4 and the judiciary confirmed the date Feb 8 and the time was also confirmed."
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he had been informed about the decision at 8 p.m. Friday.
The government's move, which came shortly ahead of budget session of parliament beginning Feb 21, was welcomed by the BJP that has been demanding that Afzal Guru be hanged. The Left welcomed it too.
With the opposition silenced somewhat in the last year of the UPA II government, ministers said the law had taken its course.
But rights activists and others said this was not so.
"There should have been decency about (today's) hanging," said Rajinder Sachar, former chief justice of Delhi High Court. "He was not like Kasab. He was an Indian."
Protocol had not been followed, said Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani, who was arrested in the case but acquitted by the Supreme Court in October 2003.
"I woke her (Afzal Guru's wife) up this morning around 6.30-6.45 and informed her about rumours of the hanging. It was a shock to her. She was completely unaware and told me that none of the family members had been informed," Geelani told IANS.
Afzal Guru's cousin Yaseen Guru also told IANS they were not told in advance about the hanging or about the president rejecting his mercy plea.
He said Afzal Guru's wife Tabassum was in a state of deep shock. "All that she and the rest of the family now want is his body," he said.
Home Secretary R.K. Singh, however, asserted that the family was informed about the hanging.
In contrast, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists celebrated the hanging near Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi.
Afzal Guru, who leaves behind a son in Class 8 and who is believed to have given up his MBBS course in the first year, had wanted an end to the "living death".
"Life has become hell in the jail. I requested the government to take an immediate decision over my sentence just two months ago. I don't wish to be part of the living dead," Afzal Guru had said in June 2008 in a rare interview to IANS in Tihar Jail's prison 3 where he spent his last moments.
Then, as now, the country was getting into election mode.
"I don't think the (UPA-I) government can ever reach a decision," he had said in what was perhaps his last interview.
He was proved wrong.