At about 7.30 am on 21 November, a friend messaged this writer on Skype to say that Ajmal Kasab was hanged. Like many fellow Indians, I was surprised. Why did the government hang Kasab now? This article attempts to answers the question. There are eight possible reasons for it.
One, the government has realised that Pakistan will never convict those responsible for the 26/11 terror attacks. With the fourth anniversary of those attacks approaching, there could have been a strong public outcry against the government for lack of tough action against Pakistan and the failure to hang Kasab. With Parliament in session, the Opposition would have had one more stick to beat the government with. No longer!
Two, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s policy of improving relations with Pakistan at any cost has drawn criticism even from within the Congress party, who are aware of the political fallout. Kasab’s execution disarms critics who cannot now argue that the government is soft on Pakistan. This also paves the way for Singh to announce a fresh set of concessions to Pakistan on the premise that promoting peace in the sub-continent is in the country’s best interests. Visits to Pakistan by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal must be viewed in this context. Actually, the deeper intent behind the PM’s peace moves is to secure peace for Punjab, and this arises out of the belief that his home state suffered the maximum during every Indo-Pak war.
Three, for the last couple of years the Congress has been on the defensive on account of the Commonwealth Games scam, the 2G scam, appointment of a tainted CVC, policy inaction, Coalgate, Vadragate, and the takeover of Associated Journals by the Gandhi family, among other things. The strategy changed with the announcement of FDI in retail. Congress has now decided to take ‘decisions’ and set the national agenda. The execution of Kasab was one such decision. Thus, it cannot be accused of policy paralysis.
Four, the outpouring of affection for Maharashtra’s Tiger Balasaheb Thackeray and the huge crowds at his cremation unnerved the state Congress leadership. Something needed to be done to take away public and media attention from the Tiger. What better way than to execute Kasab, a man who killed many a Marathi manoos? This pre-empts any move by the Thackeray brothers to occupy the nationalist space.
Five, in 2007, the delay in hanging Afzal Guru, convicted for the 2001 Parliament attacks, was one of the key reasons why Congress lost the Gujarat election. By hanging Kasab, the Congress has denied Narendra Modi a similar opportunity in 2012. This is in line with its strategy of claiming that Indian Muslims are not involved in terrorist activities; it is Pakistan that has made the export of terror an instrument of state policy. This is a message for Indian Muslims whose votes are critical if Congress is to be re-elected in 2014.
Six, as Firstpost noted, “It’s a rather strange coincidence that the much-celebrated execution of Kasab…comes just a day after the UN General Assembly adopted a draft resolution against the death penalty”. If the government is compelled by international pressure to vote against the death penalty, failure to execute Kasab would be the UPA’s biggest election gift to the BJP. Now it can avoid executing the rest of the convicts on Death Row and say it was to comply with international sentiment.
Seven, high inflation and interest rates have made life difficult for the lower and middle classes, not to forget the poor. The public is seething in anger. By playing the Kasab execution card, the government is hoping that nationalist fervour will suppress the anger.
Lastly, the Congress wants to appropriate the nationalist plank that has been the preserve of the BJP so far. Kasab’s execution is a step to reclaiming that space.
However, while the execution is a sign that the Congress is trying to seize the political initiative, it does not mean the party is seriously concerned about tackling terror. Let us look at a few examples.
The 2003 Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar blasts killed 52 people. According to a Hindu report dated 10 February 2012, “a division bench of Justices AM Khanvilkar and PD Kode confirmed the death penalty on Ashrat Shafiq Ansari (34), Mohammad Hanif Abdul Rahim Sayyed (46) and his wife Fahmida Sayyed (43).” Have these three been executed?
The 2006 Mumbai train bombings killed 209 people — even more than the 26/11 terror attacks. Over six years later, the trial is still going on.
If the Congress-NCP combine in Maharashtra was serious about fighting terror, Maharashtra’s Home Minister RR Patil, who was fired after 26/11, would not have been re-appointed after the alliance won the 2009 state elections.
Have those responsible for the 2007 Varanasi blasts (2 dead), the 2008 blasts in Jaipur (63 dead), the Ahmedabad blasts (50 dead), the Delhi blasts (30 dead), and the Guwahati blasts (83 dead) — not to forget many others — been convicted?
The public celebrations after Kasab’s execution have once again reinforced the theory in the minds of the Indian public that Pakistan is enemy number one. That might have been the case till the late 1990s, but India has moved far ahead thereafter. By making Pakistan enemy number one we are according it a status that it is not worthy of.
The biggest threats to India come from China, from the lack of energy security, unabated infiltration from Bangladesh that is changing demographics in some parts of the country, lower economic growth, and the impending fiscal crisis of the government. But the government continues to either remain in denial or is merely tinkering with these real issues.
The author is a national affairs analyst and founder of www.esamskriti.com
First published in www.firstpost.com