India is a pluralistic, secular, democratic country that prides itself in the rule of law. Its government officials are sworn to defend the Constitution, and protect the life and liberty of its law-abiding citizens. They are not beholden to demonstrate allegiance to the Constitution of any other country in the world. Especially, that of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, with whom it has fought four regular wars, and continues to fight a proxy war waged by a bunch of terrorists and thugs. Why, then, is this extraordinary statement from the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil:
In what could be a major controversy in the offing, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on Wednesday linked Sarabjit Singh’s case with Afzal Guru, the convict in Parliament attack case, saying we can’t seek Afzal’s hanging and pardon for Sarabjit Singh.
Talking to media persons in his hometown Latur, the Home Minister linked the two cases saying, "If you want Afzal, hanged then why ask for Sarbjit’s pardon."
To put this statement in perspective, Mohammad Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, an Indian citizen, was convicted of conspiracy in the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, and was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of India in 2004. The sentence was to be carried out on October 20, 2006, but has since been deferred. A chorus of activists in India that includes writer Arundhati Roy, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have demanded clemency for Mohammad Afzal, with some of them alleging a flawed trial.
Sarabjit Singh, also known as Manjit Singh, another Indian citizen, is a convicted spy in Pakistan. He was convicted for his involvement in the serial bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan that killed 14 people. Sarabjit Singh claims that it's a case of mistaken identity, and he is a farmer who inadvertently strayed into Pakistan from his border village. Pakistan's President Parvez Musharraf has deferred the execution, after pleas for mercy from Sarabjit's family and several requests from the Indian government.
All of this is fine, and I am not about to get into the merits of these two convictions and death penalties. The independence of Pakistan's judiciary is questionable, considering the recent shenanigans surrounding the suspension and reinstatement of several justices, including the Chief Justice of its Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Nevertheless, let's suppose the prosecutions in both the cases have been diligent, and the judges have been fair in convicting Afzal and Sarabjit.
As citizens of a democratic country, the Arundhati Roys and the communists in India are privileged to claim whatever they want, including a flawed trial for Mohammad Afzal, and demand clemency. So does Sarabjit Singh's family. The Government of India, too, is well within its bounds to request a pardon from its counterpart in Islamabad, especially for someone who has been convicted as a spy in its service. For the life of me, however, I cannot understand how these two clemency petitions can be tied to each other, that too by a high ranking official of the Indian government.
Mohammad Afzal has been convicted by the nation's highest court for masterminding a high-crime against his own people, the people of India. An attack on its Parliament is nothing short of treason against India and subversion of its Constitution. Sarabjit Singh has been convicted by the highest court in Pakistan, but for serving in the interest of his people, the people of India, possibly under orders from his government. The motives and goals of these two Indian citizens could not be any more different. Sarabjit had put his life at risk to protect the lives of his fellow citizens. Afzal had put at risk the lives of those democratically elected to protect the lives and liberties of his fellow citizens. In any other country, Sarabjit would be a hero, and Afzal, undoubtedly, a traitor. How could any citizen of India, leave alone an elected office bearer, possibly equate the two?
To link the requests for pardon for these two is not only demeaning, but also contemptible in the Home Minister's total disregard for due process in his own country. Isn't Mr. Patil meddling in the affairs of his colleagues, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the Minister for External affairs, Mr. A. K. Antony, the Minister of Defense, and M.K. Narayanan, the National Security Adviser, who are entrusted with the security of the Indian citizenry against external threats? Isn't he simultaneously undermining the authority of Mr. H.R. Bharadwaj, the Minister for Law and Justice, under whose aegis comes the entire judiciary, including the Supreme Court of India and its justices?
Mr. Shivraj Patil's statement is at once cynical and dismissive of the people of India, who have deposed so much faith in this shameless man by elevating him to one of the highest offices in the Republic. He should not be allowed to hold this office any longer, and must be fired forthwith. If India were to retain any of its self-respect, that is.