How other Indian attackers escaped ‘hangman’ Governments wary of triggering unrest

NEW DELHI, Dec 2, (AFP): Mohammed Kasab was hanged weeks after his mercy plea was denied. But others involved in some of India’s most infamous attacks have languished on death row for years because governments are wary of triggering unrest.

Pakistan-born Kasab, one of ten gunmen who laid siege to India’s financial capital Mumbai in November 2008 and left 166 people dead, was one of more than 400 people on death row in India before his execution in November.

His hanging was remarkably swift in a country where the death penalty is now extremely rare, and where experts say successive governments have been fearful of a violent communal or ethnic backlash.
Even three Tamils convicted for their role in the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi have yet to be executed. Their hanging was stayed after huge protests in the southern state of Tamil Nadu last year.

Prior to Kasab, only one execution had taken place in India in the last 15 years, when a former security guard was hanged in 2004 for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.

Sanjay Hegde, an advocate at the Supreme Court, said there was widespread popular support for Kasab’s execution and it would likely have few domestic repercussions.

“Kasab is a one-off case in that it’s not politically divisive at all. The national sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of handing down the death penalty to him,” Hegde told AFP.

Petitions for clemency in other high-profile cases involving attacks on Indian soil have been awaiting the presidential signature for years, as there is no set time limit for the president to look over the appeal.
Among those awaiting consideration is the case of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim sentenced to death for his role in the 2001 attack on India’s parliament which left 15 people dead, including five militants.

Any decision to grant Afzal Guru clemency would risk a backlash, especially from Hindu right-wingers. However his execution risks igniting Muslim separatist sentiment in volatile Kashmir.

And the scheduled execution of a Sikh radical over the 1995 assassination of a chief minister was stayed at the last minute last year after large-scale protests prompted the Punjab state government to file an appeal to the president.

“In other cases, whether in Tamil Nadu or Punjab, the attackers have benefited from local support from state-level politicans,” Delhi-based political commentator R. Jagannathan told AFP.

“Kasab has no godfather in India. It was a politically expedient hanging and the government played its cards, knowing fully well that no one was going to stand up and protest it.”

According to advocate Hegde, the government was pushed to act quickly in Kasab’s case, as “any delay would have cost them politically.”

“He was caught red-handed on camera. If he had sat on death row for years, the political repercussions for the government would have been troublesome, with lots of people raising a fuss over why he was kept alive,” he said.

Kasab’s execution came two days after India voted against a UN resolution to abolish the death penalty.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement in response to the hanging, calling for India to “join the rising ranks of nations that have taken the decision to remove the death penalty from their legal frameworks.”

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