Debating Afzal

It has been more than three weeks since Afzal Guru was sent to gallows. For all these days it is this issue that is dominating the public discourse in Kashmir. Cutting across party lines and ideologies everybody seems to be contributing in the debate. The latest is the state assembly that started its budget session in Jammu last week. For two days, it was issues related to the hanging of Afzal Guru that impacted the proceedings.

Ruling National Conference was perhaps the first political force in the state to know that Afzal is being hanged. It was none other than the chief minister who expressed his reaction over the event. While separatists were under house arrest or in jail, Kashmir was under curfew. Once the official reaction to the hanging was over, media was also prevented from delivering its duties.

Now when situation is eased, there are political forces within the unionist camp – the PDP, CPI (M) and several other lawmakers like Engineer Rashid and Hakim Yasin, who want the entire issue to be debated on the floor of the house. So far, it has not been permitted. It was repetition of the day when a resolution seeking clemency for Afzal was tabled and the floor was managed in such a way that it could not be taken up.

Afzal was not the first person who was awaiting the gallows. He was actually at No 28. There are many others who have been awarded the capital punishment much earlier but somehow they are getting the chances of exhausting the last defense that is available within the systems in vogue. That was denied to Afzal.

State governments have not been so lackadaisical in permitting the law making institutions to take care of such issues. What happened in Tamil Nadu assembly? They passed a resolution seeking clemency for the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi. In fact the apex court judge who presided over the division bench in this case has issued a statement that indicates second thought. How did Punjab react? In case of Beant Singh’s assassins, top Akali leaders have met almost everybody who matters in Delhi. That is despite the fact that the assassin has issued public statements that he does not require Akali-acquired mercy. Convicts in both the cases are still in Tihar with the hope that they will one day manage clemency. At least they are still living.

Afzal’s case is one of the most debated cases of execution within the country. Most respected mainland newspapers have termed it revenge. The trial in the case has been debated threadbare and the investigations are being questioned from all sides. It has even attracted unhappy response from none other than the Prime Minister that the systems governing executions were not followed in letter and spirit.

In such a situation, if the J&K legislature can not be permitted to even debate an issue that is for reasons beyond politics, very crucial to the contemporary history of Kashmir, what are the lawmakers worth of doing? Democracy is not all about polling. Elections are the first step in the democratic staircase. Why cannot we learn to use institutions positively?

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