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Why capital punishment will continue in India

Why capital punishment will continue in India
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Why capital punishment will continue in India. Notwithstanding the efforts made by the saffron lobby to pretend that Yakub Memon\'s religion had nothing to do with his hanging, the belief that the two are inextricably linked will not fade away.

Notwithstanding the efforts made by the saffron lobby to pretend that Yakub Memon's religion had nothing to do with his hanging, the belief that the two are inextricably linked will not fade away.

As a matter of fact, Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy, who was a member of the BJP before being chosen for the Raj Bhavan post, can be said to have let the cat out of the bag by saying that those who opposed Memon's hanging were potential terrorists.

The governor's "insight" underlines two points. One is an inability of the follower of a semi-fascist ideology to understand the norms of a democracy, where it is allowed to hold views contrary not only to what the government says but even what the judiciary may pronounce.

Moreover, the governor seems to believe that it is only Memon's co-religionists who were against the punishment meted out to him. But, there were many others, including Hindus, who petitioned the president against the execution. Surely, as a true saffronite, the governor would not like to categorize these Hindus as potential terrorists.

His target, therefore, was obviously the Muslims, which is in keeping with the standard Hindutva view that although not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims. It is but one step to go from identifying only a particularly community with terrorism to insinuate that all its members are potential terrorists.

Incidentally, this blinkered outlook ignores the role of Hindu terrorists during the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam in the 1980s with which the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) was associated, and in Sri Lanka, one of whom belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) killed former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

The controversy over Memon related less to his culpability than to the belief that he may have surrendered to the Indian police and, as such, should be seen as an approver and, therefore, not sentenced to death.

A newspaper article quoting a former Indian intelligence official fuelled this speculation, but since no definite conclusion was reached about whether Memon had surrendered or had been caught by the Nepal police and handed over to the Indian authorities, the execution went ahead as planned.

What was remarkable about the episode was the protracted judicial process which preceded the 7.35 a.m. hanging. The fact that the Supreme Court was in session till only about two hours before the death sentence was carried out would long be a matter of judicial and political history.

Not surprisingly, Memon's fate had revived the debate about whether India should follow other "civilized" countries in banning capital punishment. There has been a large measure of support for such an initiative. But, two factors have made its implementation difficult.

One is the continuing threat of terrorism from Pakistan and the fact that suicide bombers sneak in from across the border from time to time, as in Gurdaspur in Punjab recently, to kill at random.

One such killer, Ajmal Kasab, was caught alive during the November 26-29, 2008, Mumbai murder and mayhem by Pakistani terrorists. He was hanged in 2012. It is obvious that as long as these acts of terror continue, it will be extremely difficult for any Indian government to ban capital punishment.

By Amulya Ganguli

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