Stoking a controversy, Congress leader Digvijay Singh on said the credibility of government and judiciary was at stake after the "urgency" shown in Yakub Memon's case while his party MP Shashi Tharoor questioned the efficacy of death sentence in serving as a deterrent.
Reacting sharply, BJP said such remarks were "irresponsible" and "unfortunate" as they seek to question the judicial process and demanded that the opposition party clear its stand on the issue.
After 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon was hanged in Nagpur jail this morning, Singh, in a series of tweets, said the government and judiciary should display the same "exemplary urgency and commitment" in all cases of terror irrespective of the religion of the accused.
"Yakub Memon hanged. Exemplary urgency and commitment has been shown by government and judiciary in punishing an accused of terror. I hope similar commitment of government and judiciary would be shown in all cases of terror irrespective of their caste creed and religion," he said.
"I have my doubts the way the cases of other terror accused are being conducted. Let's see. Credibility of the government and judiciary is at stake," Singh said.
The remarks came in the backdrop of allegations of slowing of probe in the 2008 Malegaon case, in which right wing Hindu elements were allegedly involved.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that he was "saddened" by the news that "our government has hanged a human being. State-sponsored killing diminishes us all by reducing us to murderers too".
He, however, later added that he was not going into the merits of this case but was opposed "to the principle and practice of the death penalty in our country".
In his tweets, Tharoor raised questions over the efficacy of death penalty in acting as a deterrent. "There is no evidence that death penalty serves as a deterrent: to the contrary in fact. All it does is exact retribution: unworthy of a government."
The Kerala MP said while "we must fight against terrorism with all the means at our command but cold-blooded execution" has never prevented a terror attack anywhere.
He at the same time clarified that he was not commenting on the merits of a specific case saying it was for the Supreme Court to decide. "Problem is death penalty in principle & practice," he said.
The remarks by Singh and Tharoor evoked angry reactions from the BJP.
BJP said Congress leaders remarks underlined the conflicting voices in the opposition party over the issue of terrorism. "He (Tharoor) is insulting the peace-loving people who want to get rid of terrorism," BJP secretary Shrikant Sharma said.
Union Minister Arun Jaitley said "irresponsible" statements by Congress leaders with regard Mumbai blast accused were a cause of concern. "We expect Sonia Gandhi to clarify before the nation," he said.
Digvijay Singh in his other tweets pointed out the "coincidence" between the hanging of Memon and the last rites of former President Abdul Kalam on the same day and advised Indians to be "liberal, secular and modern".
"What a coincidence ! Funerals of two Indian Muslims on the same day. Dr Kalam who has made every Indian proud of his achievements for India. And Yakub Menon who has by being associated with those involved in terror brought shame to the whole community.”
"A lesson for all Indians to keep away from religious fundamentalism which leads to violence and terrorism. Be liberal secular and modern. Let us be Indians first. Shun hatred and violence. Be Gandhian. Adopt and practice the ideology of love compassion and non violence," he said.
After Tharoor's remarks were slammed by the BJP and a section of netizens, the Congress leader noted in an article on a website that he had joined the public debate by expressing his sadness that the government has hanged a human being, whatever his crimes may have been.
"As the news of the hanging of Yakub Memon has been greeted across the country with reactions ranging from dismay to scarcely-concealed bloodlust. I joined the public debate by expressing my sadness that our government has hanged a human being, whatever his crimes may have been. State-sponsored killing diminishes us all, I added, by reducing us to murderers too.
"I stressed that I was not commenting on the merits of this or any specific case: that's for the Supreme Court to decide. My problem is with the principle and practice of the death penalty in our country," he said in blog on NDTV.
Tharoor insisted that the overwhelming evidence suggests that the death penalty cannot be justified as an effective instrument of the state.
"Look at the numbers: there's no statistical correlation between applying the death penalty and preventing murder. About 10 people were executed from 1980 to 1990 for the offence of murder under section 302 of the India Penal Code, but the incidence of murder increased from 22,149 to 35,045 during the same period," he said.
Similarly, during 1990-2000, even though about 8 people were executed, the incidence of murder increased from 35,045 to 37,399. However, during 2000-2010, only one person was executed and the incidence of murder decreased from 37,399 in 2000 to 33,335 in 2010. No correlation, the Kerala MP said.
Noting that his comments on social media on Thursday were met by a response from the government that he should not be "politicising" the issue, Tharoor said, "I don't see anything political in my statement of principle. But since politics has been mentioned, let me respond that it would be disingenuous to suggest that the imposition of the death penalty is free from any political motivations."
Tharoor argued that the final decision on mercy petitions or to commute a death sentence is taken by the political executive, which advises the President, who has the final say in deciding the execution of a death sentence but, is expected to act in accordance with the guidance of the Council of Ministers.
"The decision is therefore bound to be influenced by popular public opinion and political calculation," he said.
Emphasising that death penalty does not actually deter an individual from committing an offence, Tharoor cited various studies to demand that the death penalty should be abolished.
Memon, the lone 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict whose death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court, was hanged to death on Thursday after dramatic last-ditch legal manoeuvres by his lawyers to stall his execution failed.
Image: Crowds gather near Mahim dargah where the 'Janaaze ki Namaz' for Yakub Memon was held in Mumbai. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com