IN THE five years since Afzal Guru was sentenced to death, he has died several thousand times. Every night, when the guards locked him in his cell, he would have been forced to face the terror of his impending end. Every night he has swung from hope to despair and back, over and over again, as sleep eluded him. And every night, he will have imagined what his last moments would feel like, and wondered how he would find the courage to face them.
Kept hanging between life and death, between hope and despair, he has been denied even the time to accept his end and find the strength within himself to face it with dignity. This has driven him to the edge of madness and made him beg to be put to death immediately. but the Law has been as impervious to his pleas for death as it has so far been to others’ pleas to spare his life.
Every inquiry about what the government intends to do; every demand to hasten the president’s decision on his mercy petition, has been met with the lofty response, that there are a score of ‘cases’ ahead of him in the queue, so the wheels of justice cannot be speeded up for him alone. Of all the grotesque parodies of democracy that we live with, this insistence upon equality among the condemned is the most heartless.
But what is the grand process of Law that is taking so long? Last week we found out that it consisted of no more than some official in the Delhi state government losing Guru’s file for four years. but was his file really lost? Or was this Sheila Dixit’s favour to a central government that knows the moral and political cost of hanging Guru, but cannot muster the courage to recommend to the president that she commute his sentence to prison for life?
Only the hopelessly naïve will not know the answer. The truth is that from the day he was sentenced Afzal Guru has been the foil in a no-holds-barred fencing match between the BJP and the Congress. Every other consideration — the morality of the death sentence, the injunction that it be applied in the rarest of rare cases, the possible impact of his hanging upon the youth of Kashmir, upon India-pakistan relations, and upon relations between the Hindus and Muslims of India — has faded into the background.
The match was not begun by the Congress. From the day that Guru was sentenced to death, the bjp has filled the air with taunts, diatribes, and accusations of cowardice and lack of patriotism, aimed at steamrolling Manmohan Singh’s government into hanging him regardless of the cost.
The BJP has been doing so because it believes that the death sentence on Guru has created a win-win situation for it no matter what the government decides. A grant of clemency to Guru will allow it to stoke Hindu chauvinism to improve its chances of coming back to power. But if the UPA hangs Guru, it may set off a chain reaction of violence in Kashmir and other parts of India that could destroy the secular centre of the country and force voters to choose between the extremes of ‘pseudo-secularism’ and muscular Hindu chauvinism. Frighten the Hindus enough, the bjp believes, and the latter is bound emerge the winner.