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Afzal Guru hanging: Why was the centre so cowardly?

The more one reads about the details of the Afzal Guru hanging, the more one feels small.

Recent news reports confirm what many have suspected all along: that the UPA government never intended to let Guru’s family know in advance about the hanging.

Consider the facts: The government and the Tihar jail officials know that the hanging is scheduled for 8 am on 9 February. So a Speed Post envelope containing the jail authorities’ letter informing the family about it is bagged in the wee hours of 8 February at 3.19 am, reports The Economic Times.

Reuters

Reuters

This is how ET tracks the progress of the letter. Tihar first books the letter at 12:07 am on 8 February – ie, 32 hours before the actual hanging. This itself is a giveaway on intent – since it normally takes four days to deliver a Speed Post letter to non-metros.

Says the newspaper: “The letter was bagged by the GPO, Delhi, for Srinagar at 3.19 am, dispatched for Palam at 5.51 am and reached Palam at 7.39 am on February 8. It was finally airborne for Srinagar at 10.29 am on February 8, about 21 hours before the hanging.”

The letter is shown as received in Srinagar only at 1.03 pm the next day, after the hanging and burial. From Srinagar, it still has to go to Sopore, where the Guru family lived. It was finally delivered on 10 February at 11.02 am – more than a day late.

But the jail authorities, secure in the knowledge that the letter won’t reach the family for it to claim the body, note that “there is no request for the body” and bury Guru inside Tihar.

One should have several problems with this approach.

First, it is plain and simple dishonest to believe that you are meeting the technical requirements of the jail manual when the intent is quite the opposite. It would have been more straightforward to say that in this case that we did not follow the letter of the law for reasons of public security. It would at least have been less hypocritical.

Second, once it was clear that the letter could not have reached the family before the hanging, was it not common courtesy to wait for confirmation of its delivery before taking a call on burying him in jail? Quite clearly, here too the government’s intentions were suspect.

Third, if the GPO authorities can collect a Speed Post letter at 3.19 am from jail as a special case, surely they can arrange to deliver it in time as a special case too? Maybe Communications Minister Kapil Sibal can tell us why his Speed Post is willing to court ignominy for the home ministry’s follies.

Fourth, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde should be taken to task for making misleading statements on this issue. He claimed that “two Speed Posts within a gap of 10 minutes were sent on the evening of February 7.” And then he maintained that “I have information that communication was sent to the family. The letter was sent on February 7 night and the action was taken on February 9,” The Times of India quotes him as saying.

The point is this: should the home minister of a country get away by telling us white lies?

His own Prime Minister is now reportedly unhappy with Shinde for his failure to inform the family in time, but we don’t know if Shinde will ever lose his job for dereliction of duty.

The whole Afzal Guru affair is a sad commentary on the cowardice of the Indian state, and especially the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

For six years after the Supreme Court reconfirmed its death penalty on Afzal Guru, the government hemmed and hawed over the mercy petition, cowardice written all over its inaction.

And when the decision is taken, possibly due to expectations of political advantage, cowardice again rules with the government subverting its own jail manual for fear of public repercussions in Kashmir Valley.

Cowardice is not the answer to the Kashmir problem. By its action and inaction in the Afzal Guru case, the UPA government has shamed the state and the nation. It has made a bad situation in the Valley worse.