The hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri terrorist, in New Delhi on Saturday for his role in the attack on the Parliament House complex in December 2001 at last brings judicial closure to a landmark case in independent India.
This is quite apart from the debate on having the death sentence on the statute book, which is an altogether different matter. While the provision exists, the crime in question could not but have attracted the maximum sentence as it was proved after judicial review that there was not the smallest room for the case of innocence to be upheld.
Whether the administering of the maximum penalty to the death row prisoner leads to violent protests, or to political waters getting muddied in Kashmir or in any part of the country, or indeed causes pent-up emotion to find release among any other section, is really of little consequence. The most visible symbol of our democracy was attacked by terrorists, and the Indian state had no option but to respond.
Were it not for the bravery shown by security forces, and members of the Parliament staff, the five armed men of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed may have stormed into the parliamentary chambers. The consequences of this are too horrific to contemplate. Nine people were killed, and 15 injured, defending Parliament.
Any reasonable reading of the case indicates that the confirmation of the conviction and sentencing by the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court, and validation of these processes in an appropriate judicial review, was scrupulously fair by any international yardstick. Claims to the contrary seem politically coloured, or ideologically inspired.
The worrying aspect was that the Supreme Court rejected the appeal against the death sentence as far back as 2005, but it has taken nearly eight years for it to be carried out. It has rightly been held that appeals for clemency that lie with the President — which was rejected on February 3 — must be disposed of in a reasonable period of time. This means months, not years. India must therefore get its act together if its judicial system is to hold credibility, and deter terrorists, as in this case.
It is possible that a dose of politics was responsible for the delay. It is also possible that India may have been bargaining with Pakistan for the release of Sarabjit Singh by going soft on Afzal Guru. But even the latter should not have happened, given the enormity of the crime.