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Sentence delayed is sentence denied

May 06, 2010 14:54 IST
It is a moot point if the government, which showed its resolve by setting up a fast-track court to deal with 26/11, will do the same with Ajmal Kasab's sentence. If it doesn't, it will only be guilty of playing ducks and drakes with Mumbai's sentiments, says Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

So Ajmal Kasab has been sentenced to death.

Given the enormity of his crime, which qualifies as the rarest of rare kinds mandated by the Constitution for which alone the death penalty can be prescribed, there is no surprise there.

But the sentencing does not mean closure for a city, and nation, repeatedly traumatised by terror imported from across our Western border. Closure will not come even when Kasab is 'hanged by his neck till death'.

True closure will come only when we as a people, as a civilisation, can relax in crowded, public places without fear, when the ugly metal detectors that greet us at the entrance of every single public space goes forever, when we won't have a need for acronymic groups like ATS, QRT (Anti Terror Squad, Quick Response team) etc to be raised.

That is a distant dream, towards realising which Kasab's sentence is but a baby-step.

We are not a blood-thirsty nation, never were, and thank god for that. We may have the death penalty as a deterrent on our statutes, but it is seldom invoked. Which is as it should be.

But where it is invoked, we seldom implement it. Which is not as it should be.

It is no one's case that if the death penalty were imposed more strictly Kasab and his cronies will have been deterred from crossing the Arabian Sea into Mumbai. Death is not a deterrent for the fidayeen; they have been indoctrinated to embrace it.

The only question then is, should the Indian State come in their way?

Kasab's fate was sealed the minute he was apprehended by martyred braveheart cop Tukaram Omble on the night of November 26, 2008. Proceedings at the Mumbai fast-track court may serve to show the world that under-developed India has a well-defined system of jurisprudence which kicks in never mind even if the crime is as heinous as the one perpetrated by Ajmal Kasab and his blood brothers, but for Indians fast-track courts make no sense if the verdict is not fast-tracked.

It is a moot point if the government, which showed its resolve by setting up a fast-track court to deal with 26/11, will do the same with Kasab's sentence too. If it doesn't, then it will only be guilty of playing ducks and drakes with Mumbai's sentiments.

And for those who point out that the law is about cold facts and not sentiment, what is the point of having the death sentence on the statute if we don't have the resolve to enforce it? We may as well disband our border security and save Kasab's kin the trouble of sneaking in.

India is possibly the only nation in the world that has the death sentence on its statute but is reluctant to enforce it. It is not that the courts have shied away from prescribing death; heck, in a vast country like India it can't be difficult to come across the rarest of rare crimes that merit the noose. The problem has always been with the establishment.

From gruesome murders to the Parliament attack case, the perpetrators are all inmates of death row. And given the slow pace of what Home Secretary U K Bansal recently called the due process of law which will be followed in Kasab's case as well, it is likely that the convicts will die of old age and natural causes than from the hangman's noose.

Afzal Guru, whose conviction and sentence in the Parliament attack case was upheld by no less than the Supreme Court five years ago, still awaits his fate. The problem is not that India has an appeal system even beyond this. The problem is the inordinate time it takes for the appeal to travel from hereon to Rashtrapati Bhavan for the President's clemency, and back.

No wonder, rather than spend precious money that can otherwise be diverted to hiking our legislators' income, most states have done away with a hangman. In straitened times the post can always be bangalored.

In politically straitened times, I mean.

The United Progressive Alliance has been anything but progressive when dealing with the various challenges facing the nation, but its worst reflexes are when confronted with challenges to the State -- be they from the Maoists, or from the terrorists, native and imported.

What is it about core challenges that makes the UPA look like deer caught in the headlights? Why does it give the impression of being a confused Arjuna on the battlefield? Who is the Krishna whose advice it awaits to be galvanised into action?

Looking back, the National Democratic Alliance at least gave the nation some hard rhetoric, and was seen to be doing something even if it amounted to nought at the end. With the UPA, there is little attempt even at pretence, make-believe. It is as if the government is more concerned about ensuring its own longevity through stinking deals with quicksilver political adversaries, than doing anything for the citizenry.

Harsher critics of the UPA than me attribute the government's reluctance to act against terror in general and terror convicts like Afzal Guru in particular to the Congress's vote-bank politics, but I disagree with it. Not because the Congress is blemishless when it comes to vote-bank politics, but because the charge unfairly tars the Muslim community the majority of whom have stood up to be counted when it comes to confronting terrorism. If the Congress perceives it any other way, it will be a tragedy of mammoth proportions.

The average Indian cannot be faulted for wondering why when India is repeatedly the target of misguided youth, the United States has succeeded in either warding off or aborting terror strikes on its soil since 9/11. Geography -- which pits India in the cradle of instability and religious intolerance while isolating the US with miles of ocean -- is only part of the answer. The main reason is resolve.

But it is not that Indians are full of resolve while the government alone is lacking in it. In this case, yatha praja, tatha raja. As a people we lack resolve, and find escape in blaming the government for it. As evidence check out the proceedings in our House of the People where everyday brings fresh fracas over trivia -- at a time when there is no dearth of issues to be tackled across the nation.

Yet we continue to vote in the same people election after election, and bemoan the lack of choice we have. If we don't change our stripes, there's no point in expecting those we elect to change their stripes.

By sentencing Kasab to death, Judge Tahaliyani has done the expected. The government gave into popular sentiment and fast-tracked the trial; if it doesn't show rare resolve and fast-track the sentence as well, it will be betraying not just the people but also itself.

Follow Saisuresh Sivaswamy here. You can also e-mail him at sai@rediff.co.in

Saisuresh Sivaswamy