Kasab and mercy petitions: win for now, challenge for future

November 21, 2012

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

It seemed like a typical Wednesday, at least till the morning calm was shattered by the din of television channels announcing the execution of perhaps India’s most hated villain — Mohammad Ajmal Kasab.

On the morning of Nov. 21, India hanged Kasab, the only surviving member of a militant squad that attacked Mumbai in 2008. His hanging, just days before the fourth anniversary of the attacks, was done amid great secrecy, perhaps fearing a violent backlash.

Kasab’s death brings a sense of closure for the victims and survivors of the attacks and will certainly be a boost for the Congress-led coalition. At least, one chapter of this gruesome attack which happened while they were in power is now closed.

After a lengthy trial and spending at least 260 million rupees of taxpayer’s money on Kasab’s upkeep, his execution had been imminent.

But no one expected the Rashtrapati Bhawan to be so quick. The rejection of Kasab’s plea by President Pranab Mukherjee and his speedy execution show India’s resolve to deal sternly with militancy.

The key now is to sustain the momentum and clear all mercy petitions pending before the president as soon as possible.

India has a bad track record when it comes to mercy petitions and should act swiftly in the 14 other pending clemency pleas.

The opposition has already shifted focus to Afzal Guru, sentenced to death in 2004 for his involvement in the attack on the Indian parliament 11 years ago, as he still awaits the gallows. Pressure from political groups in Kashmir and human rights activists as also a discord among its own rank and file forced the government to put his execution on the backburner. Similar political wrangling has been the reason for the delay in the hanging of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted in the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.

If the Indian legal system allows the death penalty, the process should be expedited and mercy petitions should not gather dust in the Rashtrapati Bhavan for years. We should follow the same rules for everyone and not allow politics to take precedence over the rule of law.

It is time the president acts quickly on all pending mercy petitions within a fixed timeframe. If this doesn’t happen, enthusiasm over Kasab’s execution will be short lived and India will continue to be a country where justice is delayed and hence denied.

(You can follow Sankalp on Twitter @sankalp_sp)


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