Now that the much talked about resolution pertaining to the case of Afzal Guru has been listed for discussion, in the legislative assembly during forthcoming autumn session of the state legislature in Srinagar, the net outcome of the exercise would depend on whether and to what extent the debate is conducted in a genuinely meaningful way. That rider demarcates the line between partisan politics over the main issue and an objective approach towards some of the key universal questions thrown up by the rejection of Guru’s mercy petition by the President of India. To make an impact, presuming that that is the spirit behind the resolution, it is incumbent upon the legislators to thoroughly study the delicate nuances of this case and express their views objectively. This caveat is called for in light of the experience that most of the time an exercise of this kind becomes a casualty of political one-upmanship.
There are three broad aspects of Afzal Guru’s case: One, that legal experts have pinpointed gross errors in his trial resulting in his conviction; two, that his alleged indirect involvement in the attack of parliament did not justify extreme penalty; and three, that the demand for clemency is based on universally acknowledged logic. The resolution tabled in the assembly would be meaningful only if it focuses on specifics.
It is easy to predict that those opposed to the resolution moved by an independent MLA, Eng. Rashid, would seek to derail the debate by injecting extraneous ultra-nationalistic factors. Inherent danger of allowing such a distortion is all too evident. As it happens, presently there are three almost similar cases under spotlight in the country. Apart from Guru, there are two other cases of Murugan (in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case) and Bhullar ( in the New Delhi bomb blast case) pending with the central government. President of India has rejected mercy petitions in all three cases and technically Guru, Murugan and Bhullar stand in the death row with nothing between them and the gallows.
However, despite these striking similarities in the three cases, the response among Indian public and political circles has been anything but similar or even-handed. Even a superficial look brings out the fact that religious identities of a Muslim (Guru), a Hindu (Murugan) and a Sikh (Bhullar) have emerged as key motivational factors in shaping divergent public/political response to their identical cases. There are also traces of ethnic propensities. The Tamil Nadu assembly has confined itself to seeking clemency only for Murugan. Akali Dal has been pleading for Bhullar. And now the Jammu and Kashmir assembly would be discussing a resolution related to Guru’s case. Obviously, the humanitarian and ethical issues common to all the three cases lack the pull which their sectarian projection commands. And that is a crucial vulnerability.
J&K assembly would be strengthening its appeal in Guru’s case if it transcends these narrow grooves and also seeks clemency for Murugan and Bhullar. In fact, the House could go further and direct an appeal to the other side of the international border and seek clemency for Sarabjit Singh awaiting gallows in Pakistan under, more or less, similar circumstances. Human rights activists in Pakistan are already active in seeking reprieve for him and his repatriation to India. Let a message go out on how such humanitarian issues need to be viewed in a purely humanitarian way across the board.