With the Supreme Court on Friday dismissing death row convict Devinderpal Singh Bhullar’s plea that he should not be sent to the gallows, the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance government are hoping the verdict will stem the raging debate over the hanging of 2001 Parliament House attack accused Afzal Guru.
The verdict has blunted one crisis of the UPA but has created another.
Among those whose cases will be affected by the verdict include Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins -- Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan and sandalwood smuggler Veerappan’s four aides -- Gnana Prakasam, Simon, Meesakaara Madiah and Bilavendran.
However, this could spell fresh trouble for the UPA government, particularly in the case of Rajiv’s assassins. The Tamil Nadu assembly had passed a resolution demanding that their sentence be commuted when their mercy petition was rejected by the President in 2011.
It will be doubly difficult to execute them in the backdrop of the raging anger in Tamil Nadu over the human rights violations suffered by Sri Lankan Tamils.
In fact, the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam even pulled out of the UPA government on this issue.
The UPA government had come in for sharp attack from human rights activists after Afzal Guru’s hanging which also led to days of turmoil in the Kashmir valley.
There was anger that the Parliament attack convict was executed in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in secrecy without his family being informed about this decision in advance.
While the government is keeping a nervous watch on the repercussions of the Supreme Court verdict in Punjab, there is a sense of relief that it would be spared the incessant criticism it had to endure over Guru’s hanging.
The ruling combine would have had to face further flak if the apex court had accepted the Khalistan Liberation Force member Bhullar’s plea for commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment as it would have reopened the debate over Guru’s hanging.
“We would have had to again face questions about Guru’s hanging -- about the timing, his trial and whether he was denied an opportunity to seek a judicial review,” remarked a senior Congress leader, adding that the government has at least been spared a fresh bout of criticism.
While human rights activists had slammed the UPA government for Guru’s hanging, the incident had sparked angry protests in the Kashmir valley just when the state was returning to normalcy. Fearing that the feeling of alienation might set in, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took note of the outrage among the people and joined them in criticising the Centre for its handling of the Guru’s execution.
Activists and people of Kashmir had questioned the decision to hang Guru in secrecy and charged the ruling coalition of violating international norms by failing to inform the convict’s family prior to the hanging and for not handing over his body to them for the last rites.
While sparking a debate on the continuation of death penalty in India, this hanging had also raised questions about the fairness of his trial and that he was denied a right to seek a judicial review after his mercy petition was rejected by the President.
The Supreme Court’s decision on Bhullar will, however, keep alive the debate on death penalty as today’s verdict has implications for 17 other death row convicts who had also sought relief from the apex court on the plea that there had been an inordinate delay in deciding their mercy petitions and the arbitrary manner in which this decision is taken.
For instance, Bhullar’s petition was lying with the President for 11 years before it was finally turned down. The Supreme Court had stayed the execution of 17 other convicts after Bhullar’s hanging was stayed despite the fact that the President had rejected their mercy petitions.
Even today, nine mercy petitions are awaiting the President’s decision.