State's eagerness to hang 1993 Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memon doesn't quite pass the smell test

There is something that does not smell right about the likely hanging of Yakub Memon, one of those convicted for the 1993 Mumbai blasts planned by his absconding brother Tiger Memon, now believed to be in Pakistan.

Yakub Memon may actually have been a side-player in the blasts, and is mainly accused of being part of the criminal conspiracy, especially arranging funds for the blasts. He has been convicted, and his death sentence has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. The centre has also rejected his mercy petition. He has filed a last-ditch petition to seek a review of the death penalty. Of the 11 accused awarded death sentences, 10 have been commuted to life, and only Yakub’s date with the hangman has been confirmed. If the Supreme Court does not intervene, the Maharashtra government seems likely to let him hang on 30 July.

Yakub Memon. IBN Live

Yakub Memon. IBN Live

Memon’s execution needs to be stayed. What does not smell right is the decision to let the “law take its own course” only in his case, which makes it a political act, by default or design. This is not to say he does not deserve to be hanged – I don’t oppose the death penalty for acts that Memon has been convicted for - but hanging Memon alone for such acts would make it political.

Consider what has happened so far in hangings related to terrorism and political assassinations.

In November 2012, Ajmal Kasab, one of the 10 killers sent by Pakistan’s ISI and the Lashkar-e-Toiba to kill innocents in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, was hanged. The political intent was apparent in the timing. The Gujarat elections were due in December 2012, and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde wanted to show that the UPA was macho than Narendra Modi when it came to executing terrorists. It was widely expected that if Modi won Gujarat, he would become a national challenge to the Congress in 2014.

Three months later, when the Kasab hanging did not help the Congress politically in Gujarat or stop Modi’s rise, Afzal Guru, convicted for being involved in the December 2001 parliament attacks, was also hanged. Far from being a macho act, this was, in fact, a cowardly decision because he was hanged even without his family being informed. You can’t be seen as genuinely tough if you don’t have the courage to even inform a convict’s family before his hanging. Once again, the political intent of the hanging was to show up Modi’s tough-man image. All it displayed was the Congress’ weakness.

But two other terrorists with as big crimes to their names are still to be hanged. Their crimes were as big as those of Kasab or Guru. Balwant Singh Rajaona, convicted assassin of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, is still to be hanged for his crime. Reason: the Punjab assembly and administration applied political pressure to prevent this.

Three others convicted of the plot to kill Rajiv Gandhi – Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan — had their death sentences stayed by a high court after the Tamil Nadu assembly asked for a reprieve. The Supreme Court later commuted their sentences in February 2014 on the plea that the centre had delayed their mercy petitions for too long. The Tamil Nadu government showed great eagerness to release them the very next day, largely to score political points, and the Supreme Court was petitioned to prevent this unwholesome political act – which it did.

What is apparent to all but the innocent eye is this: where a convicted killer or assassin or terrorist has strong political backing, neither the centre nor the courts seem to develop the spine to deliver justice impartially as intended.

Now consider how the same centre, states and courts are keen to “uphold the law” when it comes to another category of killers: Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru, and, now, possibly, Yakub Memon. All Muslims, and their only common link to the hangman’s noose seems to be that they lack political support.

Yakub Memon may deserve the death penalty, but not before it is implemented for Balwant Singh Rajaona and Rajiv’s three assassins. Justice cannot be delivered – or seen to be done - if the lady with the scales and blindfold checks to see who is being sentenced before giving the nod. Yakub Memon’s hanging needs to be stayed or commuted for this simple reason. The larger question of whether the death penalty is good or bad is not the issue.

Updated Date: Jul 17, 2015 07:58 AM

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