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Kasab execution: Congress core group played the main role

Last updated on: November 22, 2012 01:50 IST

Contrary to what Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told the media, Sheela Bhatt discovers that the decision to execute the Pakistani terrorist was a carefully calibrated move taken by the nation's top governmental and political leadership.

"We tell you only when we want to share. We decide, always, how much we want to share and when," a Congress leader and minister of state told Rediff.com with a touch of pride a few hours after Ajmal Kasab was hanged. The government executed the Pakistani terrorist on Wednesday morning in a hush-hush operation.

The Congress leader said he has been getting congratulatory SMSs all day, emphasising that he was getting compliments even from "Muslim voters" in his constituency.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde sounds absurd when he says the prime minister only got to know about Kasab's execution from television or that Congress President Sonia Gandhi didn't know about it.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was quick to contradict Shinde.

It was the Congress core group that conceived the calibrated event, which the government executed with the backing of the Cabinet Committee on Security. Shinde is not a member of his party's core group.

There is little doubt that the decision to hang Kasab was a political decision taken at the highest levels in the party. All the constituents of the establishment -- like the President, home ministry, Prime Minister's Office, the Congress core group and the Congress president's office -- were involved in taking the decision.

When 'Operation X' -- as the plan to execute Kasab, the sole surving terrorist involved in the 26/11 attacks, was called -- was conceived and executed, secrecy was the most important ingredient.

Utmost secrecy is not surprising given the fact that the issue was sensitive, political and risk-prone to turn communal. Chavan agrees that it was a difficult challenge to keep the entire operation so secret.

Indian governments are notoriously opaque, so secrecy is irritating, particularly for the media, which failed to smell it. But it is not a great surprise that the Indian government executed the plan perfectly.

The Atal Bihari Vajapyee government had successfully conducted a nuclear test on May 11, 1998 without America's spy networks knowing about it.

On October 16, 2012, the Union home ministry recommended to the President that he reject Kasab's mercy plea. Obviously, the UPA government had set in motion a plan to take the Kasab issue to its "logical conclusion."

Things started moving swiftly after mid-October.

In just 25 days, on November 5, the President rejected Kasab's petition for mercy.

On November 8, the Maharashtra government was briefed by the Union home ministry about the President's decision. This gave the state government the freedom to hang Kasab after completing the necessary formalities.

A Union minister of state believes less than 75 people were involved in the exercise.

Discussing the formalities of informing Pakistan and Kasab's relatives, Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid has said, 'The information I have is that under the law we are required, and in sense of propriety we attempted to convey to the Pakistan Foreign Office that this decision had been taken and the execution will be done this morning (November 21).'

'Since those missives were not accepted by the foreign office, by fax we indicated the information to them. Therefore, our obligation to inform them adequately was fulfilled. We also had in our possession a particular address given by Kasab and we did convey to that address as well the decision that had been taken.'

All these formalities were completed between November 14 and 20. A letter was sent to Kasab's mother by courier.

When Kasab's family was informed, he had already been shifted from Mumbai's Arthur Road jail to Yerawada prison in Pune.

According to reliable sources, the final touch to the political decision was taken during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Mumbai on November 10. At a meeting between Dr Singh and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, the final plan was approved and sealed.

The next day, November 11, the judge, who was supposed to sign the death warrant, was taken into confidence. He fixed the date, place and time of Kasab's execution. He was requested not to mingle with the public till Kasab was hanged -- the chief minister personally requested him to do so.

On November 13, Chavan signed the necessary papers for Kasab's execution.

The entire exercise was conducted with an aim to give some muscle to the government that has appeared spineless in the wake of corruption charges, high prices and policy paralysis.

The government also needed a face-saver before the winter session of Parliament. With the Gujarat assembly election less than a month away, hanging Kasab would serve many purposes for the beleaguered government.

Nothing works as well as nationalism among the masses. Reactions to the execution -- on television, on social media and elsewhere -- prove that the issue has grabbed the popular imagination. Surely, the Bharatiya Janata Party has lost a few debating points to brand the Congress as a party that is soft on terrorism.

But nationalism is a fragile refuge for any tainted government.

Once the media hype around Kasab's execution subsides, the Congress will find that Kasab's death has accentuated the demand to execute Afzal Guru, the prime accused in the December 11, 2001 attack on Parliament case.

In retrospect, the Congress would find that hanging Kasab was not a complex decision because he was caught red-handed and he was a Pakistani citizen. A foreigner was hanged for a heinous crime.

But Afzal Guru is an Indian, and that too a Kashmiri. Opinions are clearly divided over the evidence against him. If and when the decision to hang Afzal Guru is considered, the Congress will find itself in a catch-22 situation.

It will be branded for playing the 'soft Hindutva card' and will displease Afzal Guru's supporters, but if it drags the decision further, it will lose much of the ambitious political advantage it intended to build up by "hanging Kasab".

Ajmal Kasab may have met a logical end to his acts of murder and terror, but the government's decision could travel in an unpredictable direction.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi