Monday 5 September 2011

To kill or not to kill (Sunday Guardian)

People protest the death sentence given to the convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, in Chennai last month. PTI
oor Rajiv Gandhi. Not only have individuals associated with groups that backed the LTTE been accommodated in senior governmental positions since 2004, but now the Tamil Nadu political class has demanded that his killers be pardoned "so that Tamil sentiments get respected".
Those involved in the battle against terrorism point out repeatedly that any identification of individual terrorists with the greater community gives them a potential support base that is undesirable from the point of view of creating a climate against such acts of violence.
Those within the US, the EU and India who — for example — moan about "Islamic Terror" are in fact playing the game of the extremists, who seek to blur the lines between them and the broader community by donning the cloak of champions for the many. There is therefore a fallacy in seeking clemency for Rajiv's killers on the grounds of their ethnicity. Those in Tamil Nadu who are vociferous in such a demand are doing the Tamil people a disservice in identifying a unique and peaceful culture with a small group with most un-Tamil proclivities.
That hypocrisy is at the root of the entire political spectrum has been once again proved by the different approaches to the approaching execution of Al Qaeda sympathisers such as Afzal Guru, the Khalistan fanatic Devinder Bhullar and the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. That stalwart ally of Sonia Gandhi, Muthuvel Karunanidhi, weeps at the prospect of Tamils being put to the gallows, although he seems to have fewer qualms about a similar fate being met by Wahhabi or Sikh desperados. The BJP would like the Wahhabis to be hanged, and the sooner the better, especially because of their own poor record in suitably ending the lives of convicted terrorists during the six years when Atal Behari Vajpayee was PM. They sympathise with the Akali Dal demand that Bhullar be spared, and are not very vocal about the Rajiv killers. As for the Congress, that venerable force is in what may be termed the Mother Teresa mode. Both Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra have visibly forgiven the killers of Rajiv Gandhi, and are eager to move on without any fresh blood being spilt. Had either of the two ladies shown a similar enthusiasm in opposing death penalty in general, they may have garnered more goodwill from their admirably merciful attitude. However, their compassion seems thus far to have been restricted to the killers of India's youngest PM.
India is in the happy position of being totally Gandhian at last. We have a pacifist as UPA supremo, another as PM and a third as Defence Minister. Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and A.K. Antony wear their obsession with the avoidance of conflict on their sleeves, and prove it by their responses to the security challenges being faced by the nation. Very different from the full-blooded response of Indira Gandhi in 1970-71 or Rajiv Gandhi in 1986-87, and matching the serial appeasement favoured by Jawarharlal Nehru. Given such a trio at the apex of the national security pyramid, it is no surprise that India's diplomatic footprint has dwindled to insignificance across its neighbourhood. Recently, Sri Lanka revoked the visa-free entry it had given holders of Indian passports, while joining Pakistan in giving PRC nationals that privilege. Throughout South Asia, India has receded in public importance and consciousness, being replaced briefly by the US, but since the 2008 financial turmoil, by China. Those not particularly respectful of Indian concerns (as seen in the policy kitchens of North and South Block) know that Sonia, Manmohan and Antony can be relied upon to avoid tough options. Indeed, that the defining characteristic of policy by the UPA has been to look the other way in the hope, perhaps, that the problem will go away.
regime less prone to sporadic fits of the type of mercy demonstrated by the Sonia-Vajpayee decision to commute Rajiv assassin Nalini's death sentence or the heart warming visit of the vivacious Priyanka Vadra to connect with those who killed her father may have executed the whole batch of terrorists by now, whether LTTE, Wahhabi or Khalistani. That would of course be completely out of character for the regime, which is even more "soft" than the squidgy consistency of the Vajpayee approach to national security (that saw ceasefires being offered to Kashmir terrorists just when the military was at their throats, and which ferried terrorists to freedom with a Cabinet-level escort). Let it be admitted that this columnist opposes capital punishment. It is a brutal and barbaric punishment, that satisfies nothing other than the most degenerate and atavistic cravings of the human race. Hence, were he in the position of the merciful Sonia, the compassionate Singh and the even saintlier Antony, he would take steps to abolish capital punishment altogether. However, short of this, to prolong the wait of those convicted is to be guilty of inflicting on them an inhuman punishment.
Either the government should execute them all — and swiftly — or do away with capital punishment across the board, including in the case of those who do not have champions within the political spectrum.
What is steadily degrading the national security environment of India is less bad policy — although there are numerous examples of these, especially in the Kafkaesque Home Ministry — than an absence of the will to implement any policy. Decisions are ricocheting across the governmental interface, getting attenuated, sometimes accentuated, and often vetoed by players who ought to have had only a marginal effect on policy. For six years, this government has reached for the lowest common denominator. These days, it is getting paralysed into either incoherence or spasms of unwise action in its search for options even less favourable than that. It would seem that a sentence of capital punishment has been carried out, not on terrorists but on the functioning of the UPA.

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