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Rahul a flop, Afzal Guru hanging Cong’s last ace?

The government should do better than insult the intelligence of the nation by saying parliament attack convict’s hanging had nothing to do with politics. Capital punishment per se is political — it’s the state’s reply to address a sore thumb and talk to its people

shantanu

Shantanu Datta | February 9, 2013

Afzal Guru

Now that Afzal Guru has been hanged, buried, the press conferences addressed, and clarifications made and sought — respectively by the UPA government and the BJP — it’s time to get back to the core question: why now?

Read updates: Prez, Shinde spring surprise again: Afzal Guru hanged

The contention that Guru’s hanging, to borrow that widely used marketing-turned-media mantra, was an idea whose time might have come, and that the UPA is in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t quandary over such issues, does not really cut much ice. As BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, the supreme court had convicted parliament attack convict Afzal Guru back in August 2005, and a Delhi court had ordered him to be hanged about a year later. Why did it take over six years for the Manmohan Singh government to bite the bullet?

The government’s stock response on these issues came from information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari — the UPA government does not look at electoral considerations when it comes to national security (read more here) and minister of state for home RPN Singh — “This is not a time for politics but calm, restraint and sobriety," he wrote on Twitter.

The first could be termed balderdash and the second, well, balderdash, in the absence of a more profound word. It’s called an attempt to take the moral high ground when there’s physically little ground beneath the feet.

Both statements force an agonising turn back to the last bit of the first sentence of this piece: why now?

The Manmohan Singh government had very bright reasons to do it earlier — first, it had Pratibha Patil as the country’s president for the period immediately after the conviction and hanging order, and Patil was as rubber-stamp a resident of Rashtrapati Bhavan as rubber stamp residents of that estate go; second, it had the 2009 general elections; and third, it had half the world’s go-ahead in the aftermath of the US Navy Seals ‘encounter killing’ of Osama bin laden. The government also had other reasons and opportunities in these six years but the fact that it did not grab those means not that Manmohan-Sonia-Rahul and company were waiting for Christmas, or a divine clearance.

It merely meant indecisiveness.

And the fact that it has finally bit the bullet does not mean the government has suddenly become uber-decisive. It merely means there are few other cards left to play, let alone aces.

One of the last aces the Congress played came in January, when it anointed Rahul Gandhi as the party’s number two, and the de facto prime ministerial candidate for 2014. That the Gandhi scion did not raise a storm in a teacup even a fortnight after his anointment — he has said precious little since getting emotionally charged in Jaipur, and is still busy with his favourite pastime, organisation-strengthening exercises, the latest edition of which comes on February 15 — and Narendra Modi’s surge and success in grabbing the national psyche, along with the coming elections in Karnataka (most likely on May 20 and 23, as Governance Now reported earlier) could have prompted the ruling party to play another card and hope for it to deliver.

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