What should have been the most high- profile court case in recent memory has now all but reduced itself to dark comedy. Ajmal Kasab is the sole surviving member of the group of terrorists who besieged south Mumbai late last November. The swift trial of Kasab’s case, in a lawful and just manner no doubt, would have adequately shown India’s ability to respond to terror firmly and without compromise.
But today, almost six months after the attacks and Kasab’s capture, the court case is making life very easy indeed for tabloid journalists. Starting from the controversy over who would represent Kasab in court, to his recent request for an Urdu-version of the 11,000-page chargesheet and flavoured toothpaste, the case is gradually turning into high farce. Which is a pity, because in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks India had a tremendous opportunity to come across as a nation that responded to terror with restraint, resolve and democratic virtue.
At the time, the act of capturing Kasab alive was seen as something of a coup. It was only the brave response of a few poorly armed policemen— one of whom, Tukaram Ombale, lost his life in the process —that somehow managed to ambush Kasab into surrender.
Investigating authorities should have processed criminal proceedings speedily and with a modicum of discretion—currently every tiny aspect of Kasab’s life behind bars is reported with the attention hitherto given to Bollywood starlets.
A quick glance at past such trials in Indian courts, however, only reveals an utter lack of urgency in high-profile cases. Nathuram Godse’s trial for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi began in May 1948, four months after the Mahatma’s death, and was completed 18 months later in November 1949, when Godse was sentenced to death.
By the time Kehar Singh and Satwant Singh were sentenced to death for Indira Gandhi’s assassination, four years had passed. It would take nine years for those accused in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination to be sentenced.
Going by that track record, Ajmal Kasab probably has many months left in which to enjoy the hospitality of our legal system.
Kasab’s case: how long will it take? Tell us at email@example.com