Five days before the fourth anniversary of the Mumbai terror attack, which shook the entire Indian nation to the core, the lone surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab was hanged at 7.30 a.m. in a secret operation conducted with utmost secrecy and surprisingly with no leakages at all.
On November 5, President Pranab Mukherjee turned down the clemency plea of Kasab and after that the procedure which followed, leading to his hanging on November 21 was swift and moved with a mechanical precision. Kasab was transferred from Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai to Yeravada prison near Mumbai and on November 12, just the day before Diwali, he was informed of his hanging. He is not reported to have left a will or a last wish but did want his mother be informed.
The Indian government contacted its Pakistani counterpart but according to the External Affairs Minister, the Pakistanis refused to acknowledge the letter and so a fax was sent detailing the hanging of Kasab.
It is interesting that for a government known to leak like a sieve, not a word of the hanging came out from the time President Mukherjee rejected the clemency plea on November 5. From the President it goes to the Home Minister, from there to the government of Maharashtra, then to the Maharashtra state Home Minister RR Patil who is known to have a foot in the mouth disease, then to jail officials, to the Pune jail officials who arranged the hanging and so on. It’s a lot of people in the loop but despite that the Indian government managed to keep the lid on the entire operation.
While there was a political consensus on the hanging of Kasab in India, the Indian state followed the due process of law with three tiers of court, the lower court, the High Court and the Supreme Court awarding the death penalty to Kasab. Along with this he could move a mercy petition before the President but this was rejected by the Rashtrapati who acts on the advice of the Home Ministry. It was also seen as the rarest of rare cases where the death penalty is awarded. As a democratic nation, India followed all due procedures and finally delivered justice while Pakistan is still seen to be prevaricating in bringing to book the masterminds and handlers of Kasab and the other nine terrorist who landed on the Mumbai shore in a fishing boat, that fateful day in November.
Even as 166 innocent people were killed during the three days of mayhem in Mumbai, their deaths were collateral damage. The actual target and focus was the India state and the state, five days before the fourth anniversary has sent a strong message that it would not brook any attack on its sovereignty and that it would not let just an act go unpunished.
But the secrecy and the quietness of the operation, without any celebration and without any loud chest thumping has indicated that capital punishment in India has a human face, that whatever options and redressal mechanisms are available to an Indian citizen were also given to Pakistani national Kasab, even though Pakistan was more focused on denying that he was a Pakistani at all. It was only in 2009 that the first acceptance of Kasab’s nationality came from Pakistan.
India has set a fine example to the world that believes in delivering justice and giving a fair deal even to those who attack the Indian nationhood. Indian sensitivities on the Mumbai terror attack were well known not only to Pakistan but to other countries across the globe. The issue figured in every bilateral and multilateral meeting between India and Pakistan and it was made clear that relations between the two countries which hit rock bottom after the attack, can only be normalised if Pakistan co-operates in helping India with the investigations and bringing to justice the perpetrators.
This unfortunately has not happened in Pakistan as the country continues to live in self-denial, despite the huge body of evidence which is available.
While the impact on the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan is expected to be minimal, there may be some degree of slowdown say sources in the government. The hanging may impact those Indian prisoners who are on death row in Pakistani prisons, including Sarabjeet as Pakistan is known to follow a policy of retaliation over such issues.
There are only two prisons in Maharashtra where hangings take place. One is the Yeravada prison and the other is the Nagpur prison. The last hanging in Yeravada prison was in the 1980s when Sukha and Jinda the killers of General Vaidya were hanged. While Kasab is a kasai by caste, it is learnt that no prison in Maharashtra serves non-vegetarian food and even eggs are only given when specifically ordered by the doctors. So the stories on Kasab being fed biryani while in prison, appear to have been the figment of a reporter’s imagination.
For long India has been accused by its detractors of being a soft state which does not take tough decisions against those who perpetrate terrorism. By the hanging of Kasab, the under pressure UPA government appears to have given a fitting reply that it can also act, when required to do so. The last hanging was in 2004.
The hanging comes on the eve of the winter session of Parliament where the government is under attack and under pressure from both its allies and its opponents. The hanging of Kasab appears to have given the government a moment to smile about and maybe has eased off the pressure, to some extent. Whether it helps the Congress in Gujarat, still remains to be seen though it has limited Modi’s attacking options against the Congress.
But in a country which believes and sometimes practises the non-violence preached by Mahatma Gandhi, the clinical, low-key and non-celebratory hanging of Kasab by the government has shown that capital punishment in India has a human face. It is an issue which the Congress and the UPA government can use to its advantage even as it has sent out a red alert in sensitive areas with Muslim populations in the country to ensure that there is no reaction and no fallout of the hanging.
In a limited sense, it brings a closure to the Mumbai terror attack, particularly for the families of those who died and some of those who survived. But the real closure would come once Pakistan actually begins to co-operate and dismantles its terrorism factories and tells the world it is ready to bring to book all terrorists who use its land and begins a fresh chapter to restore normalcy to strife-torn Pakistan.
By Renu Mittal