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Why I don't feel pained about Kasab's hanging

Washington DC: I struggle with the idea of the death penalty but I do believe it should be exercised in the rarest of rare cases. In the case of Ajmal Kasab, the Indian government met that threshold after granting the lone surviving terrorist a trial. Kasab was hanged without fanfare or chest thumping and buried in the jail compound in Pune.

But no sooner had the news broken, flames of instant punditry were leaping forth to find some hole, some fault, some anomaly and declare the whole operation a dud, a conspiracy and a blot on Indian democracy. Surely, it was a well-timed plot by the Congress Party to look tough and gain the “Hindu” vote and rob the “real” tough guys who have a consistent message on terrorism. Kasab’s hanging was the first electoral salvo.

There were disgusting messages on Twitter celebrating Kasab’s death with “biryani” and worse. There were countdowns for the masterminds still living and thriving in Pakistan who ordered the attacks on Mumbai in 2008. Florid prose got the better of many writers.

MNS members celebrate the hanging of Ajmal Kasab in Mumbai. PTI

The Economist, that indispensible barometer for the smart classes, even found a subcontinental spin – now that India has broken its unofficial moratorium on hanging as have Pakistan and Afghanistan lately – were all the execution coordinated? India should have set an example for the region, advised the sage. Others questioned whether India was a “legitimate democracy” because it had failed so many judicial tests in the past. How could it be allowed to pass this one? Kasab should have been shown mercy, the argument went, as insurance against “revenge attacks” since his death could be used for recruitment across the border.

Kasab’s hanging is neither going to spur more jihadis – they are already in line because of grinding poverty – nor will it trigger extra revenge attacks which incidentally already are the new “normal” for millions of Pakistanis growing with the background music of Hafiz Saeed.

As for other democracies doing away with the death penalty, I don’t know what’s more legitimate – killing terrorists with a drone strike where one has to take the CIA’s word for pretty much everything or hanging one whose crime was caught on camera and witnessed by countless people.

Western democracies that my friends exalt have ways of subverting their own systems that would take an army to uncover the tracks. Even supporters of President Obama agree that his record on due process is less than sterling and that his justice department has plumbed some serious depths by ignoring cases of torture. And in this war on terror, many European democracies have been just as complicit in many illegal and questionable tactics. Renditions come to mind. It can’t be easy to condemn the death penalty in India while winking at terror suspects being whisked off the streets of London or Milan and tortured.

Yes, the death penalty is a difficult issue and I have difficulty with it. I was against it until major terrorist attacks started darkening normal life with scary regularity. Now I am not so sure. The sheer brutality of killing innocent civilians in cold blood -- infidels, Indians, Kashmiris -- who don’t buy the terrorists’ sales pitch was a smack in the face like few others.

Should I feel pained and conflicted when a confirmed and convicted terrorist, who rained bullets in a crowded train station in Mumbai killing more than 50 of the 166 people who died in the horrific attacks, is hanged? I didn’t yesterday when the news first came broke. I wondered if the parade of countless victims, their injured bodies slowly going lifeless, the survivors wailing and the kids orphaned had dulled my finer democratic instincts?

As I said, I am not sure about the idea of the state taking away life but somehow I can’t bring myself to mourn Kasab’s hanging or see it as illegitimate. It is the law of the land. If a critical mass of people feel we shouldn’t have it, let’s have a debate on its merit and whether it is a crucial determinant of our democratic credentials.

No, Kasab’s hanging doesn’t bring closure on the nightmare of 26/11 because I know his masters will live safely ever after in Pakistan, whether in jail or outside.