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2001 Indian Parliament attack anniversary: Afzal Guru remains enigma as nation pays homage to security personnel who died fighting

Although one of the prime accused in the Parliament terror incident on 13 December, 2001, Afzal Guru was given the capital punishment for his involvement in the heinous crime a section of the civil society including people from the political spectrum always expressed an iota of doubt if Guru was served with proper justice. The attack on the Parliament building in New Delhi took place 17 years ago when five heavily armed gunmen stormed the compound and opened fire, killing 12 people. The terrorist entered the Parliament complex around 40 minutes after the Assembly was adjourned.

The victims included five Delhi Police personnel, a woman Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper, two Parliament watch and ward staff and a gardener. A journalist had also succumbed to his injuries. Meanwhile, all five terrorists were also shot dead. The hour-long gun battle was broadcast live on news channels.

Immediately after the failed attack, the Parliament complex was virtually converted into an armed camp. The entire complex had to be sanitised, while simultaneously the trapped ministers, parliamentarians, mediapersons and others had to be whisked away to safety. As an added precaution, security units were deployed in and around the VVIP zone; with the army guarding the residences of the prime minister, the home minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

The government initially accused terror groups Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (Jof involvement in the attack. However, LeT denied its involvement.

The then home minister LK Advani said that the attack was a "major conspiracy,'' intended to disrupt the entire political system and destabilise the "whole set-up". He said that the terrorists who had attacked Parliament would pay dearly for their "misadventure".

Two days after the attack, the Delhi Police picked up alleged mastermind Afzal Guru from Jammu and Kashmir for conspiring and sheltering the militants. He was later found guilty along with three others - SAR Geelani, Shaukat Hussain Guru and Afsan Guru. The Delhi High Court upheld Afzal's death sentence, and later his mercy petition was rejected by then president Pranab Mukherjee on 3 February. Afzal was hanged in Delhi's Tihar jail on 9 February, 2013.

However, even though much political unity was seen on the decision to execute Afzal, many Left-wing leaders and civil rights activists spoke against the "unfair" manner in which he was prosecuted and sentenced to death. In her book 'The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament' writer-activist Arundhati Roy mentioned the "shoddy manner" with which the Delhi Police put the case together, the acquittals in Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court’s confirmation of Afzal's death sentence despite "questionable evidence".

A political slugfest had also erupted on the issue after senior Congress leader P Chidambaram also raised doubts about Afzal's involvement in the attack. In an interview, to The Economic Times, Chidambaram said, "I think it is possible to hold an honest opinion that the Afzal Guru case was perhaps not correctly decided." Chidambaram said that there were "grave doubts about the extent of his involvement" in the attack.

In 2004, Afzal had written a letter to his lawyer Sushil Kumar, a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court. "I was never given a chance in the designated court to tell the real story.... Now I hope that the Supreme Court will consider my helplessness and the reality through which I had passed. STF made me a scapegoat in all this criminal act which was designed and directed by STF and others which I don’t know," he wrote.

However, another of his letter apparently addressed to his family did the rounds of media in which Afzal had written: “It pains my heart. Do not dub 13 December, 2001 a conspiracy,” the facsimile of the published letter said. “December 13 is linked to Kashmir issue. If December 13 is a conspiracy, then entire militancy is a conspiracy. We should not feel ashamed of December 13.... We people have been terming bomb blasts in buses or on roads as terrorism and we will continue to say so. Any action on which one feels ashamed later is always not a good action… but whatever we do, we never conceal it. Resistance is our right.”

Meanwhile, the other accused SAR Geelani was acquitted on 29 October, 2003. When Afzal was hanged in Tihar, Geelani called the UPA government’s decision a “cruel and politically motivated gimmick” and said the “police and investigative agencies fabricated evidence against Afzal and the whole system is biased and he had faced the heat of this bias”.

Another accused Shaukat Hussain Guru's death sentence was commuted to 10 years of rigorous punishment. Meanwhile, Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Ghazi Baba, also an accused in the attack, was killed in an encounter with the Border Security Force (BSF) in Srinagar in 2003.

Every year the terror attack anniversary is marked by paying tributes to the security personnel who lost their lives while saving hundreds of ministers who were inside the building on the unfateful days. On Thursday, all parliamentarians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi paid tributes at to the martyrs of the attack in the Parliament complex before the start of the Day 3 of the Winter Session.

On the 17th anniversary of the attack, Modi also took to Twitter to recall the courage of the security personnel.

"We salute the valour of those who were martyred during the dastardly attack on our Parliament on this day in 2001. Their courage and heroism inspires every Indian," the prime minister said.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also paid her homage to those killed, saying "terrorism and violence achieve no purpose". Mamata took to Twitter to state "violence must be shunned by all". "Today is the 17th anniversary of the attack on Indian Parliament. My homage to the people killed on that day and sympathies to those who were injured in the line of duty. Terrorism and violence achieve no purpose, and must be shunned by all," Banerjee tweeted.

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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2018 13:50:49 IST

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