'The only logical explanation for the sudden hanging of Afzal Guru,' feels Seema Mustafa, 'is the fact that general elections are around the corner. And the Congress in its usual cynical manipulation of votes is trying to eat into the majority constituency with this action.'
A television news anchor, shortly after Parliament terror attack accused Afzal Guru was hung by the government in Tihar jail, declared, 'All nationalist, secular and progressive people support this.'
That was just one statement amidst a cacophony of euphoric reactions to the hanging, but stood out as many of us who have been opposing the death penalty and questioning the fairness of the Afzal Guru trial certainly do not regard ourselves as communal and reactionary or for that matter anti-national.
Quite the contrary really, and so it did sound strange when journalists supporting death by hanging, refusing to question the fact that Guru did not get a capable lawyer through the trial, and blocking out the responses of those raising such issues, so easily put large segments of the Indian population into their self-defined 'anti-national' frame.
And so before analysing the possibly disastrous consequences of this hanging, it is imperative to understand the mindset of television news anchors who have successfully managed to convert personal beliefs into news, and trash all voices of sanity and sobriety that seek answers to complex questions.
News channels are supposed to report the news and not give their editorial comments to a point where contrary voices are restricted from giving their views.
There was a time when reporters followed the news, reporting it as it was, communicating and informing the public, without wearing their prejudice, bias or for that matter, views on their sleeves.
Afzal Guru has been hung. And apart from the main story the news media has a responsibility to:
one, trace his story with the facts of the case highlighted;
two, review the trial through important voices to see whether he had the best legal advice at hand or whether he was virtually left unrepresented;
three, to find out (and not just from official quotes) whether his family was informed in time, and were asked to meet him as per the humane provisions of law;
four, to seek answers to the commonly asked questions as to why the rush now, has it been prompted by political considerations;
five, to look at the possible political consequences of the hanging at this point in time and analyse whether the death of one man was worth what might follow.
This constitutes responsible reporting. As for the beating of the drums, this can be safely left to the political parties and the government who have held innumerable press conferences to applaud the act.
Journalists are supposed to play the devil's advocate, be on the other side of the fence as it were, and review the story in all its dimensions.
Indian democracy has many views, and a media that insists only on one view as 'nationalist' promotes a monolith that is in contradiction to the pluralism and diversity of this country..
So to distance oneself from the story and look at it afresh.
The terror attack on Parliament was heinous. And could have been far more disastrous had the terrorists been able to enter the building.
It was clear at the onset that the police had no clue about the attackers. Finally, Delhi university lecturer S A R Geelani was arrested, and then Afzal Guru was picked up. Geelani's trial took a chequered course, but because of the support in Delhi and the involvement of wellknown lawyers, he was finally released.
Guru was from Kashmir and unable to afford a decent lawyer. He did not have the money and as senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal managed to say hastily on a news channel, he went virtually unrepresented.
Geelani, contacted by Rediff.com, one of the news sites doing its job professionally, said, "Afzal Guru was denied a fair trial. This has been proved in his last moments. I do not understand the attitude of the government. They have done nothing but play to the gallery."
"Do you know there is a case pending in the Supreme Court of India? The court has been looking into the delay into this case, arguments are going on and the matter is pending justice."
'Do you think it was right to hurry up the matter?'
"The due process of law has not been followed. This is nothing but a flawed process."
But somehow we have becomes so blood thirsty as a nation, so wedded to war and violence (largely because of TRP ratings) that we do not like to ask any questions.
After all, even a death row convict has rights, or is the case now that all these chaps should be shown no mercy and hung the moment they are convicted by the courts?
As wellknown women rights lawyer Indira Jaising said, while arguing against the death penalty, is there not a right to reform, and if even reform for some is seen as impossible, is there not a right to remorse?
And should not it be the job of the sane voice of journalism to ensure that at least the rule of law is respected, and the rights of an individual acknowledged?
The impact of the hanging can have damaging repercussions at different levels, and far more than this government will be able to handle. The media informs us, through the usual sources, that the decision was taken after top-level meetings and discussions. So one is led to believe it was a considered decision.
Instead of instilling confidence, this actually evokes fear, fear of being led by a government that clearly is unable to make the right assessments and basically does not care if parts of the country go up in flames.
The government has bitten the bullet as channels screamed with joy, but there is every possibility of the bullet exploding in its mouth. And this is what makes one wonder at a political leadership that willfully invites trouble.
Aspects of the case, as has been pointed out by lawyers as well, were before the Supreme Court and the government could have easily ridden the issue out instead of converting it into a storm that will hit it, in all likelihood, in Kashmir.
The military has clamped down in Jammu and Kashmir. As a resident there said, "Not even a leaf is fluttering here." But while the state can be confident of maintaining control in normal circumstances, and beating down demonstrations, it also realises that one civilian death will snowball into a major uprising.
The February 11, 1984 hanging of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Maqbool Bhatt led to a decade of the worst violence that India has ever seen. It is true that Afzal Guru does not have the same stature in terms of a leadership profile, but in terms of sympathy and support he was probably far ahead.
Besides, the alienation and anger in Kashmir is in a heightened stage, more so after the death of the young boys in the 2010 stone pelting incidents. A Facebook post by this columnist on Afzal Guru’s hanging has elicited a volley of responses reflecting this anger and alienation and asking why those responsible for the death of the boys have not met with similar punishment.
The point is not in the language used, the message lies in the sentiment and that should have been taken seriously by a government that claims to represent India.
The only logical explanation, thus, for the sudden hanging of Afzal Guru is the fact that general elections are around the corner.
And the Congress in its usual cynical manipulation of the votes is trying to eat into the majority constituency with this action. As for the Kashmiris they do not figure in Delhi's plans. As for the secular forces, the argument voiced by Congress leaders is: 'Where will you go. If there is Modi as prime minister you will have to be with us.'
So the minorities do not figure either, as they are the bechaara who can easily be made to run into Congress arms while fleeing from communal shadows. The secularists too, in the Congress analysis, will not be far behind as there is no Left and hence no Third Front alternative that could attract them in the polls.
So all in all a cozy scenario, except for the fact that the dynamics of India and the aspirations of the people cannot be controlled and tend to upset the most careful calibrations.