New Delhi: Afzal Guru, one of the key conspirators of the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, was hanged early Saturday morning at Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
He had been on death row for nine years as the government dithered over taking a final decision on his mercy plea. This was partly due to the legal efforts undertaken by Guru’s family to seek relief and also the lack of willingness on the part of the government to carry out the execution.
Officials in the Union home ministry said Guru was hanged at 8am after his plea was finally rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee on 3 February. He was lodged in Jail number 3.
Union home secretary R.K. Singh said, “Law is taking its own course. President rejected his mercy petition on 3 February and after that we started the proceedings of his execution as per jail manuals”. Singh said Guru’s family was informed by speed post.
The home ministry had sent its recommendation to the President on 23 January.
Guru was convicted of conspiracy in the December 2001 attack on Parliament that killed six security personnel and one civilian.
He is survived by his wife and a teenage son.
In November, the union government had hanged Ajmal Amir Kasab, for the 26 November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Kasab was the lone surviving terrorist of the banned terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba to be captured alive.
The two hangings for acts of terror seek to address the charges levelled by the opponents of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that it has tended to be soft on terror.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had been seeking to make this an electoral issue, welcomed the execution. BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy said though the decision has come late, the party welcomes it.
“The capital punishment awarded to Afzal Guru was part of legal and constitutional process, which ought to have taken place earlier,” BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
“Supreme Court had upheld his death sentence and again, in 2007, had rejected his review petition.The question of delay remains important,” he added.
While the government may have pre-empted the BJP’s game plan, co-incidentally, the execution comes on the eve of the crucial budget session of Parliament and also days after Narendra Modi, the Gujarat chief minister, has unambiguously begun to assert himself to play a national role as the leader of the political alternative, the BJP.
Politically, analysts believe, it may also serve as a distraction from the string of adverse economic news that has been filtering in over the week. Not only is the economic growth forecast to drop to a 10-year low, agricultural production too is expected to be at the lowest level in the last four years.
At the same time, a spike in onion prices over the last month has served up a grim reminder about the government’s inability to tackle food inflation.
Reacting to Guru’s hanging, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said Shinde informed him around 8pm last evening about the Union government’s decision.
“There is a certain degree of angst against this execution. There are people who for their own political advantages will try to take advantage and add more inconvenience to people,” he said, asking people to maintain calm and not to indulge in any kind of violence.
“We have made precautionary arrangements and forces have been mobilized in certain cities and districts,” he said.
Abdullah also tried to clarify his government’s role in the execution of Guru.
“Unlike the case of Maqbool Bhatt, government of Jammu and Kashmir was not required to sign death warrant of Afzal Guru as there was no case registered against him in the state,” he added.
Gurcharan Das, political commentator and author of India grows at Midnight: A liberal case a for strong state, said: “India has a rule of law and this decision should have been taken when Supreme Court had first upheld the death sentence. It is unfortunate that such decisions become subject to electoral politics.”
Jai Mrug, Mumabi-based political analyst, said the timing of the decision is important.
“It has come at a time when government is preparing for a dream budget. First the government raised prices of diesel and increased hike in rail fares. Kasab was hanged and now Afzal Guru. The government is doing whatever it could do to prepare for the elections,” he said.
“The other reason is that with RSS and VHP pitching for Modi, the election fight is gradually moving towards extreme nationalism,” he added.
Earlier, Narendra Modi, in his reaction to Guru’s hanging, tweeted: “Better late than never”.