Prakash Karat: the question of who hangs in India today is largely a politically determined decision.
Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar on Thursday said his party had forgotten its own stand on abolishing capital punishment which it had taken in the historic Karachi session of 1931.
Speaking at the Indian Women’s Press Corps here, Mr. Aiyar, who was one of several prominent citizens who submitted a mercy plea to President Pranab Mukherjee for commuting Yakub Memon’s death sentence to life imprisonment, said the only possible justification for taking someone’s life was if it acted as a deterrent to future crimes. “And there is no empirical evidence from anywhere in the world to suggest that murdering a murderer will stop other murderers,” he argued.
Mr. Aiyar, a Rajya Sabha MP, said the time had come for India to abolish the death penalty and the place to do was is in Parliament. He cited a private member’s Bill moved in Parliament by the CPI’s D Raja last week as a possible starting point. “Though it was introduced amidst a ruckus, the leader of my party in the Rajya Sabha made sure to clarify with the Speaker that the Bills introduced would carry over for discussion into the next session.”
“Even if the government doesn’t come up with a suggestion for abolishing the death penalty, and I would be very surprised if they did, I hope it will give us a chance to express our views on the matter,” he said.
In its three-day Karachi session in March 1931, the Congress passed a series of resolutions on Fundamental Rights and Duties, Labour, Taxation and Expenditure, and Economic and Social Programme. One of the clauses of the resolution declared: “There shall be no capital punishment.” The resolution was moved soon after the British government sent Bhagat Singh and his comrades Sukhdev and Rajguru to the gallows. In later years, however, following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, the party took a harder stand on the death penalty.
The Karachi Congress resolution was also brought up by former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat who was speaking alongside Mr. Aiyar at Thursday’s event. Mr. Karat argued that the question of who hangs in India today was largely a politically determined decision. This was clear, he said, if one were to look at the cases of prisoners who had been hanged over the past few years, such as Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru, against those whose sentences had been commuted.
He pointed out that clemency had been shown to the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, who enjoyed the backing of the Tamil Nadu and Punjab governments respectively. In the case of the latter, Balwant Singh Rajoana, Mr. Karat pointed out that his execution was stayed by the Home Secretary even after his mercy petition had been rejected by the President, only because of political pressure from Punjab.
“The whole of Kashmir said ‘don’t hang Afzal Guru’, I know this because I was there at the time, but their voices were never heard. In the case of Rajoana, the Home Minister himself intervened to stop the hanging,” he said.
Mr. Karat said Guru was hanged because the UPA government thought it expedient to carry out the execution since the BJP was making an issue out of it. “In our political circumstances the death penalty has become a political weapon and it is high time we moved for its abolition,” he said.