Ajmal Kasab and Naroda Patiya: A tale of two verdicts
There was a dignity to the Kasab’s case, the closure offered by ritual, a sense that even if terror as a network was not destroyed, a terrorist was sentenced.
August 30th, 2012 was a historic day. India witnessed the almost simultaneous release of two verdicts. The Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence on Ajmal Kasab and the Gujarat High Court indicted 32 people in the Naroda Patiya case. Each judgement in itself offered high drama, but the juxtaposition of the two conveyed a wider sense of how justice is presented and consumed.
There was a dignity to the Kasab’s case, the closure offered by ritual, a sense that even if terror as a network was not destroyed, a terrorist was sentenced. It provides a symbolic closure to the city and its victims, allowing a return to normalcy.
The verdict at Naroda Patiya had a different ring to it. One could smell the fear and the expectation. There was a sense of folklore justice to Babu Bajrangi's sentence. Here was a man who would introduce himself as "myself, prime accused in Naroda Patiya case". The indictment of Maya Kodnani a close cohort of Modi conveyed a split symbolism. At one level, it provided a sense of hope, the surprise that justice could reach so close to the top. At another level, there was a sense of drawing a line. The system seems to be tacitly saying this far and no further, clear that Maya Kodnani is a marker for the limits of legal justice in Gujarat.
The sense of closure was heightened by BJP's move to disown the two accused. Jay Narayan Vyas, minister of health, claimed that Babu Bajarangi is no longer with the party and that Maya Kodnani was not a minister during the time of the riots. This washing away of responsibility left a bad taste in the mouth, making the viewer question Vyas's idea of ethics and responsibility.
The Kasab verdict was better staged as a drama of justice. There is none of the fudging, the political messiness that Jay Narayan Vyas brought to the Naroda picture. TV made sure that Kasab himself stayed backstage. In the spotlight were the two lawyers, Raju Ramachandran who served as amicus curiae for Kasab and Gopal Subramaniam, prosecutor for the state of Maharashtra.
Both are classical in an old style manner. They are particular in their choice of words and Gopal Subramanian could have been teaching a class in elocution. Ramachandran is precise about his role, clear about fulfilling it correctly. Ramachandran shows that the law is a cleansing process. Justice is done when the rituals are correctly enacted in form and substance. Subramaniam provides a depth and sonority. He begins by congratulating Ramachandran, acknowledging that the latter made every feasible argument. It is a meeting of professionals, both committed to law and justice, each with a deep respect for the other. Law and justice becomes an exercise in pedagogy and performance which even the judges acknowledge. The TV interview by juxtaposing the two lawyers shows that committed professionals can go further than rhetorical radicals.
The two verdicts created a split level drama between law and politics. Law for all its ritual slowness is able to provide justice. The electorate on the other hand is content with BJP rule. The tension and complementarity between people's choice and the court verdicts comes out starkly. Democracy is consoled knowing that for every Modi, there is a Subramaniam and a Ramachandran. The drama does not end. Another act is over but what the performance hints is that law and democracy will one day merge. The Citizen is content with this hope and grateful for the professionalism of law.
Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad.
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