In his acceptance speech after being sworn in as the country’s 13th president, Pranab Mukherjee has termed the war against terrorism the ‘fourth world war’ and reminded the world that India has been on the frontlines of this war long before many others recognised its vicious depth or poisonous consequences. He has also assured the people that India would not be deflected from its mission by ‘the noxious practitioners of terror’ and praised the Indian Army and state police forces for sacrifices in fighting against them on borders and inside the country.
Every Indian will stand by the president in his unflinching commitment to fight against the perpetrators of terror. These include not only those striking in India from across the borders but also anti-national elements within the country out to challenge the governments established by the law and enforce their will through use of brutal force against state agencies and innocent citizens. On this front, his more immediate challenge would be the expeditious disposal of mercy petitions of death row prisoners. Nearly a dozen such petitions are reported to be pending before the new president. He should actively dispose them with sagacity and the ruthlessness that they deserve.
Shockingly, the previous president had commuted death sentences of 35 of 39 such prisoners, including those convicted for mass murders and rapists. The new president should keep in mind that death penalty in India is given in the rarest of rare cases after careful scrutiny by the highest court. As the holder of the nation’s highest constitutional post, it is his responsibility to protect the rule of law. Swift disposal of clemency petitions is desirable as petitions for clemency from the likes of Parliament attack mastermind Afzal Guru have remained undecided for far too long. Equally, if not more, important is the interest of the nation and its people. In the process of dealing with such petitions, Pranab Mukherjee must not fall prey to the politicisation of such cases that so-called secular parties have engaged in.