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Afzal Guroo hanging and the Ghost of Modi

February 9, 2013

The nation woke to the news of Afzal Guroo having been hanged in Tihar Jail on the 9th of February, 2013 at 8am in the morning. The man had been convicted of helping Pakistan terrorists in the parliament attacks of 2001. His mercy petition was lying with the president for long. Pratibha Patil did not sign the annulment of the mercy petition. Apparently Pranab Mukherjee did. The question is, when did President Mukherjee sign the annulment? Be as it may, one thing is very clear – this was a card that the Congress had kept for dire situations and they thought it fit to play this card at this juncture. The question is why?

That Afzal Guroo was to be hanged was a foregone conclusion. No government worth its salt could have suggested to the president that his mercy petition be accepted. It was matter of finding an opportune time. Ajmal Amir Kasab had been hanged for perpetrating the 26/11 carnage. But that did not register with the nation as a show of resolve of the Congress government to fight terror. What prompted the government to go ahead with the hanging of Afzal Guroo can be discussed and debated without any respite as is our wont’ Suffice to say that the government is finding itself cornered on all fronts, whether it is price rise, economic slowdown, the falling rupee or development issues or security of women. It is also seen as soft on terror and wanting to appease the Muslims for votes. Gujarat election results made Congress sit up. They realized that inaction on the terror front was making this government look indecisive and the majority Hindu community was polarizing against the Congress. The worst nightmare of the Congress Party is a polarization of the Hindus. That is one scenario that means doomsday for the Congress. They wanted to show that they can be tough on terror and that their commitment to nation’s fight against terror is second to none.

The one party that is almost speechless is the Bharatiya Janata Party. They never imagined that the Congress would take such a decision. To Congress’s credit it must be said that P. Chidambaram had indicated soon after Kasab hanging that others will follow. Most did not give much importance to what Mr. Chidambaram said then. I have always said that those who are discounting Congress from the race to Indraprastha are doing so at their own peril. The grand old party is foxy and has maturity that most other parties lack, including the Bharatiya Janata Party. Hanging of Afzal Guroo at this juncture when the elections are an year away is a master stroke politically both domestic and international. India needed to send the message to the world community that India was not soft on terror. The beheading of Indian soldier by Pakistan special forces was another catalyst to this decision. Pakistan has been quietly warned that India does not tolerate nonsense. The suspension of the Indo-Pak talks after the beheading of our soldier was in that light and perhaps in retrospect one can say that in anticipation of the hanging of Afzal Guroo.  Capital punishment at this stage when the elections are an year away is also convenient politically as an year is a long time in politics. It will not have a drastic affect on Muslim voters like it would have had had the government done this a month or so before the general elections. Yet, this will give a leverage to the Congress with the majority Hindu voters in mildly reminding them that their resolve to keep the nation safe is second to none. As I said, this decision has the hallmark of impeccable timing. I do not know who decides on matters such as these – whether it is a person or a group, which can mean the Cabinet Committee on Security. Whosoever it is can take a bow for an impeccably timed decision.

I have never discounted the Congress from the race to the upcoming 2014 elections. It may yet be that the BJP lead NDA might come to power. The issues that dog the nation are many. The lack of decisiveness on matters economic is now the challenge for the Congress. They must realize that listening too much to the liberal lobby in the South and North Block is veritable hara-kiri. The decisiveness shown in the hanging of Afzal Guroo must percolate down to other matters facing the nation. The economy needs to be rectified and jobs created. Too much reliance on NAREGA and Aadhar to ward off the challenge from the BJP will not suffice.

The loss in Gujarat has Congress worked up.  Surveys by various agencies clearly showed the surging popularity of Narendra Modi. The man is a maverick and even his worst critics accept that the man can single-handedly oust the Congress. His tough image on the lines of Sardar Patel has gone down well with the youth of a very young India, where more than 65% of the population is below 35 years of age. His recent speech at Sriram College of Commerce was a watershed of sorts. His Vibrant Gujarat conclave at Rajkot was a thundering success. Foreign companies are queuing up to invest in Gujarat. Modi has shown how things can be done in his state of Gujarat. The man is keen to replicate the Gujarat model of development in the whole of the nation. The bad news for the Congress is that the nation can’t wait either. Besides Modi ensures safety of his citizens which is a remarkable achievement. Women in Gujarat voted for Modi in large numbers as they felt safe under his rule. The man has a machismo that is hard to deny. Hanging of Afzal Guroo is Congress’s answer to Modi’s tough image. Whether they will succeed in capturing the imagination of the youth of this country whose votes will be decisive in 2014 remains to be seen. But the decision to hang Afzal Guroo must be seen in this light.

It is not all positive for Congress either. They run the risk of diluting their hold on the Muslim voters. It will be foolish for any one to believe that the Muslims will forget this in 2014. Muslim leaders have often said that Congress and the BJP are two sides of the same coin (ek hi sikkay ke do pehlu hain). They will say that again with much more vigor. I see regional parties gain from Muslim voters come 2014. Whether it is the Samajwadi Party in UP, Trinamool Congress in Bengal or Haji Ajmal in Assam or NCP in Maharashtra – all will set to gain from the loss that will be Congress’s. Congress has taken a calculated risk. They reckon that the Muslims will still vote for them as they won’t vote for Modi. In Lok Sabha elections people tend to vote for national parties. That is at the back of Congress’s calculations. It could boomerang. For if the Modi juggernaut carries on and gathers steam, Muslim’s might vote for the BJP and ensure a decisive victory while taking credit for it and asking for their pound of flesh. Remember, more than 30% Muslims are supposed to have voted for Modi in the recent Gujarat elections. Muslims might desert Congress and claim they did so to teach them a lesson while jumping on to the Modi bandwagon realizing the inevitability of a Modi victory.

The hanging of Afzal Guroo has put the cat among the pigeons. Congress’s only hope to capitalize on this development is if they can make some genuine breakthroughs on the economic front. For one, they must stop hounding foreign investors and bring in some substantial foreign investments. If they can set the economy right then they can reap the benefits of this bold decision. On the international front they have sent a tough message to Pakistan and in the months to come they can resume dialogue from a position of strength. Congress will have to show fortitude to be able to cash in on the Afzal Guroo hanging.

Congress has been challenged very directly by the BJP by declaring Narendra Modi as their prime ministerial candidate. This is a bold step and the nation is watching as to how the Congress reacts to this. Will they announce Rahul Gandhi as their prime minister post 2014, if they return to power? Congress led UPA will go to the polls in the saddle. They can still take decisions such as will increase their chances of coming back to power.

One last conjecture before I pen down. what if Congress led UOA had hanged Afzal Guroo before the Gujarat elections – would Modi have still won? Congress did not take that risk and well, this can be argued any which way. But the question hangs in the air.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2013 7:39 pm

    If I may suggest a little correction here…
    “35% of the population is below 35 years of age” I think it’s 65% less than 35 is what he mentioned.
    Congress will go to any extreme to the people & then blame BJP of being polarizing party. They’ll have to be creative this time though.

    • February 11, 2013 8:31 am

      Thanks for pointing out the error. The typos has been rectified. Both Congress and BJP try to expand their turf in their own ways.

  2. February 12, 2013 7:07 am

    Being an anti-death sentence person I was, I dislike – why, say, loathe – the government’s recent organized murders (which the execution is). The last execution took place only in 2004 of which I was so proud of; I, as well as all other human rights activists are. But now blatantly, in a span of just 3 months, the govt. has executed two “purported” terrorists. And I don’t understand how the SC justify this as “rarest of rare” case.
    And to think that the govt. all of sudden made this drastic move only in view of the 2014 Judgmental Day, I feel ashamed. I agree that perhaps regional parties such as SP, DMK, Trinamool etc may surface to glory this term and may become as well the key players. In a country with both the biggest parties struggling to do away with their scams, how can we expect justice? (I suggest you strongly read Arundathi Roy’s article on Afzal’s hanging whihc was published in OutlookIndia).
    Are you a supporter of capital punishment?

    • February 12, 2013 10:43 am

      Death sentence is appropriate in the rarest of the rare case as was Afzal Guroo. 9 people including security guards lost their lives. The diabolical plan was to take over parliament and MP’s as hostages and then declare India an Islamic state.
      Arundhati Roy is the same person who used to frequent ISI agent in the US Ghulam Muhammad Fai. There were others too, I understand.

  3. February 15, 2013 5:59 pm

    great article, if you can, do read my blog on Indian politics

  4. March 10, 2013 6:50 pm

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