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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 11 New Delhi March 5, 2016

Why Afzal Guru evokes a Controversy Everytime

Wednesday 9 March 2016, by Sandeep Pandey

In the context of the recent event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University to mark the hanging of Afzal Guru in which JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar has been arrested on the charge of sedition, we must also consider why the controversy over Afzal Guru refuses to die. Afzal Guru was hanged for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack case. But the Supreme Court admitted that there was no evidence to show that Afzal Guru was a member of any banned organisation nor any of the 80 prosecution witnesses said that Afzal was associated with any terrorist organisation. The judgement says, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, has shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” We have to ask ourselves: can satisfaction of the collective conscience be a reason for ending somebody’s life in a civilised society? And there is not even a question raised over this judgement? It is a disservice to Indian democracy if we choose to remain a part of the silent conspiracy.

Afzal Guru did not receive a fair trial. He was not allowed to have a lawyer of his choice. Nor did the court hear his version. He was made to accept his crime under duress and threat by the police. Simply put, he was made a scapegoat. The truth is, if he had not been hanged a feeling would have prevailed that India was not able to take strong action against the perpetrators of the Parliament attack. Somebody needed to be hanged and it was the misfortune of Afzal Guru that he was the most vulnerable among the four who were made the accused in the Parliament attack case.

The then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, had slammed the execution of Afzal Guru and said that it would reinforce the sense of alienation and injustice among Kashmiri youth. He claimed that the decision was more political than legal.

It is this doubt over Afzal’s hanging that persists even three years after his hanging and that is the reason some people would like to call him a martyr.

The NDA Government has termed the event on the JNU campus as anti-national as there were objectionable slogans raised. The moot question is: what will be considered more anti-national—hanging a person whose crime was not conclusively proved or merely raising pro-Kashmiri Azadi slogans? It is the injustice done in the case of Afzal Guru which is reverberating in the form of slogans which were raised at the JNU event.

It is important to question the hanging of Afzal Guru so that such incidents no more occur in future. The right to free speech is under threat in our democracy from the communal-fascist forces. There are people associated with the RSS who would like to eulogise Nathuram Godse. Some even want to build a temple in his name. If they would like to worship Nathuram as a hero, they should not have any objection if some people want to treat Afzal Guru as a martyr.

The authorities are also suggesting that the permission for the event was withdrawn just before it was to take place. A similar thing happened when reputed journalist Siddharth Varadarajan was to speak at Allahabad University at the invitation of the AU Students’ Union President Richa Singh on January 20, 2016. The Vice-Chancellor there also withdrew the permission at the last moment.

It must be asked to the persons associated with the current ruling dispensation, which has become the torchbearer of nationalism and determines what is appropriate and what is not and is not behind in punishing the ‘offenders’, whether they took any permission to demolish the Babri Masjid in 1992, an incident which has seriously compromised India’s internal security atmosphere. Or, before they killed Mahatma Gandhi. Or, when they carried out bomb blasts twice in Malegaon, in Hyderabad, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express. Or, did the NDA Government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee at the Centre take even their own Defence Minister into confidence, what to talk of Parliament, before testing the nuclear weapons in 1998, an act which worsened the South Asian security environment? If the people associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh think they are free to do whatever they like and would prevent others, even violently, from carrying out their activities, they may be in for a rude shock in the next elections. The people in this country have never tolerated tyrannical ways. Hitler may be a hero for the RSS but not for the common masses of India.

The treatment meted out to journalists and JNU students and professors at the Patiala House Court on February 15 by the RSS- associated lawyers was shameful. If the violence resorted to by terrorists and Naxalites is condemnable how can the police and nation stand as a spectator to the hooliganism indulged in by the Sangh Parivar members? No other mainstream political organisation exhibits the kind of lawlessness that organisations associated with Right-wing ideology do. They have committed crimes like murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and have created a situation in which Rohith Vemula was forced to commit suicide, in addition to innumerable threatening attacks on people who don’t agree with their ideology. This nonsense should not be tolerated in a democracy even if a price has to be paid for it. The RSS is hurtling this country towards a state of Emergency which can only lead to civil war and anarchy. The people who brought the BJP to power with a thumping majority in 2014 must rethink whether it is even fit to rule for five years. Socialist leader Dr Rammanohar Lohia once famously said that living communities don’t wait for five years.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey was recently sacked this year from the IIT-BHU where he was a Visiting Professor on the charge of being a “Naxalite” engaging in “anti-national” activities. He was elected along with Prof Keshav Jadhav the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India) at its founding conference at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.

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