Some clever floor management by politicians in the J&K assembly has ensured that a resolution seeking clemency for Afzal Guru has been put off, at least, until the next session. Nevertheless, the introduction of this resolution and the adoption of another similar resolution by the Tamil Nadu assembly have once again bared the tendencies of the political class to opportunistically politicize issues of national security.
Afzal Guru had been sentenced to death by the Supreme Court for his role in the 2002 terror attacks on India’s Parliament. This attack stands out from other terror attacks for the reason that it was an attack on the heart of India’s democracy. It brought us to the brink of an all out war with Pakistan. Nonetheless, it is perfectly acceptable for people to have opinions at odds to that of the Supreme Court verdict. And there are established processes to rectify judicial verdicts that are perceived to be unfair.
The gentleman who introduced the resolution in the J&K assembly is also entitled to his views. But, the correct course of action for him would be to petition the President to pardon Afzal Guru. It is wholly deplorable to side step processes and introduce a resolution in the assembly.
Similarly, Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister of the country when he was assassinated. He was not just a leader of the Congress party but the leader of the country. Once again crass opportunism masquerading as the people’s wish and ‘groundswell’ support were played out and the Tamil Nadu assembly adopted a resolution seeking clemency for the three convicted for their role in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
This brings back memories of the unanimous resolution passed by the Kerala assembly in 2006 seeking the release of Abdul Nasser Madani on humanitarian grounds. While this seems innocuous, it was not. Madani was in jail on charges of having planned the 2005 Coimbatore blasts that killed 58 and the courts were looking into the merits of the charges against him. Now, Madani’s political influence in select districts of north Kerala ensures that he is wooed by the two dominant political formations in Kerala – Congress and Communists. It is this jousting for Madani’s support that ensured a unanimous resolution for his release.
In due course, in 2008, Madani was exonerated by the courts. However, his exoneration does not vindicate the 2006 resolution. Without pretensions of constitutional knowledge, common sense suggests that the assembly cannot claim to have previewed the juridical culmination of Madani’s case. To claim so will mean that the assembly had arrogated to itself the function of the courts. It is for the courts to dispense justice depending on the strength of the evidence within the framework of laws made by the legislature.
Nevertheless, safeguards ensure that such resolutions have no legal impact on the status of such cases in the courts. But, it brings into sharp focus the propensity of our political class to overreach even on issues related to terrorism.
True, the executive and legislature are legitimized both by the constitution and popular suffrage but neither confers blanket legality or morality. Good politics is to strike the right balance between delivering on quotidian issues of bread and butter and taking tough decisions to realize latent aspirations of the people. It is horrible politics to play with people’s sentiments and pander to vote banks on issues of national security.
While in the short run, such opportunism might fetch dividends, the same cannot be said of the long term. In this context, it is pertinent to note the ramifications of the Congress’s opportunism in the 1980s. With its brute majority, Congress, in 1986, ensured that an act which overturned a Supreme Court verdict (The Shah Bano case) was passed by parliament. Even though the legality of this act was not in question, it fared horribly on the moral barometer. The backlash was so severe that the forces it unleashed so decimated the Congress in the Hindi heartland that it is yet to recover.