The invariable show of sympathy for a convict on the death row resurfaced in the past week with 1993 Mumbai bombings convict Yakub Memon having exhausted almost all his legal recourses following his sentencing through the procedure of appellate jurisdiction leading up to the Supreme Court. The last recourse, a curative petition, was turned down by the apex court hours before Memon was to hang. The sympathisers’ refrain that the law must go soft on criminals who surrender voluntarily as part of a ‘deal’ with the state was proven false before that, thanks to some good crime reporting by newspapers and a few engaging debates on television that involved law enforcers and judges who were part of the lengthy trial that lasted more than two decades. But this was neither the first nor the last we saw of the breast-beating brigade. They have made an industry out of misplaced sympathy where, more often than not, their object of pity happens to be an enemy of the state as well as a living threat to humanity.
Unfortunately, our legislators have left some room for the NGO racket to manoeuvre. Judges must act in accordance with the law, while the law is not categorical on the question of terminating the life of a convict who conspired and planned a terrorist strike on the nation but finally left the execution of the plan to some accomplices down in the hierarchy of the terror outfit’s command. This makes the judges use their discretionary powers to decide whether a said convict has committed the “rarest of rare” crimes and, hence, must die. Conspirator in Indira Gandhi’s assassination Kehar Singh and a caballer in the attack on Parliament House, Mohammad Afzal Guru, were sentenced to death while the woman who was among the planners of Rajiv Gandhi’s killing, S Nalini Sriharan, continues to live. This discretionary power of the judge and ambiguity in law, the second of which leads to the first, must end. And that will end the scope for show of solidarity with terrorists in the television studios, newspaper columns and streets of the country.
In the execution of a terror plot, the plotters are, in some measure, guilty of a crime of greater magnitude than those who carry out the instruction of their handlers. In such cases, the final crime is never possible without the diligently designed attempt. Furthermore, the man with the gun or bomb in hand is quite often a brainwashed youth; his masters, mostly well educated, who incited him are more culpable for devising the sinister assault. There is, hence, a clear rationale for changing the law to make capital punishment for the conspirators mandatory.
An ill-policed country like India must mull additionally over the cost of hosting a terrorist in jail, given the history of hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC814, whose hostages had to be freed in exchange of release of dreaded terrorist Maulana Masood Azhar among others. Azhar went on to establish Jaish-e-Mohammed that has not only bled India but also been an international operative responsible for bringing Yemeni mercenaries to Somalia. A terrorist must know that India cannot afford to feed him for life in a jail in the eventuality of his getting caught. The death sentence is a terrorist’s occupational hazard.