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The politics behind the hanging of Kasab

November 21, 2012 20:17 IST

The Union government seems to have chosen its timing with care. Parliament begins its winter session on Thursday and the BJP would have used the issue during the Gujarat elections. Hanging Kasab was politically expeditious for the shaky ruling coalition, says Neerja Chowdhury.

The hanging of 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab, successfully kept under wraps till he was executed, has given a leg up to a government which had come under attack for being weak and ineffectual.

In hindsight, there were signs that something could be afoot, when President Pranab Mukherjee dismissed his mercy petition and Kasab was shifted from Arthur Road Jail to Yerwada Jail in Pune, where there are facilities for hanging. But then this happened on the day of the funeral of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and the attention of the entire state/nation was riveted on it.

The cancellation of Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik's India visit four days ago could have also aroused suspicion. Also External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid deferred his trip to Iran at the last moment. But no one got a whiff of what was being planned.

The army is known to be able to maintain secrecy over an operation but that a civilian authority could do it so successfully over what was christened as 'Operation X' has come as a surprise, particularly when the government had botched up on so many fronts of late.

The government seems to have chosen its timing with care. It goes without saying that with the Supreme Court having endorsed the hanging, and the President having rejected his mercy petition, the government had to move ahead with his hanging.

With the anniversary of 26/11 four days on, questions would naturally been asked why there was a delay. As it is, the government had come under criticism for the process having taken four years. But then, it was important for the country to demonstrate to the world that a free and fair trial had taken place and the judicial process had been fully followed, even though the whole world had seen on television what had happened on 26/11.

And yet, clearly the government's choice of timing was political, with a view to influencing the discourse in Parliament, which starts Thursday, with the opposition parties joining hands to insist on a discussion, with a vote, on FDI in multi-brand retail.

A vote could embarrass the government hugely, particularly with its supporter the Samajwadi Party and ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam coming out against it. The Congress will try hard to avoid it at all costs. Kasab could overshadow FDI for a couple of days. But the objective was to send a clear message that the government was now on top of the situation.

Some Congress leaders hope it would yield the party a dividend in the ongoing Gujarat elections, and counter the charge of inaction on the hanging of Parliament attacker Afzal Guru. Narendra Modi lost no time in asking that question, as he tried to dilute the impact of the way the government handled Operation X. Afzal Guru is going to be a theme he can be expected to pursue in the coming weeks and months to put the ruling Congress on the mat.

But then President Mukherjee, unlike his predecessor, appears to be moving with dispatch and is learnt to have sent a dozen names -- and Afzal Guru's name seems to be part of that list -- to the Home Ministry for its comments. Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh also called for the hanging of Afzal Guru on Wednesday. This will give the Congress enough of a talking point in the Gujarat campaign, irrespective of the way politics around Kasab and Afzal Guru pan out in the days and weeks to come.

It was not surprising that many Congress leaders were all too willing to face the cameras on Wednesday, be it Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil, who called a press conference as early as 8.30 am to announce the hanging, or Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan or the usually reticent Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde or Law Minister Salman Khurshid.

For the moment, the mood of the country has undergone a subtle shift -- and this was evident on the social media -- and the government is looking that much more confident. Repeatedly flayed for its paralysis, today many are beginning to say, "At last the government has acted."

When it faces Parliament on Thursday, it may not be on the backfoot that it has been for over two years.

Neerja Chowdhury