Cong points to SC, but Modi factor peeps

New Delhi, Feb. 9: The Congress leadership, which had appeared in two minds about Afzal Guru's fate not too long ago, firmly backed the government's decision to hang him, arguing it was only the culmination of the legal process and that there was no politics involved.

Questions had been raised in the past about the political sagacity of hanging Afzal because of the strong sentiments in Kashmir and doubts about the soundness of the case that had split even the legal fraternity.

But senior Congress leaders today said there was no way the government could have disputed the legal processes and given credence to the doubts being expressed in a section of the society.

A senior Congress leader said: "The Supreme Court's verdict cannot be set aside by the government. Such decisions are not taken on emotions or political considerations."

But others in the party admitted any attempt to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment would have allowed the BJP and allied outfits to vitiate the atmosphere. One leader said: "The BJP's politics might have tied our hands."

The prospect of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's advent on the national scene appears to have created abnormal pressures on the Congress leadership.

President Pranab Mukherjee, who for decades had been an integral part of Congress strategy-making, would also not have cleared the file rejecting the mercy petition without weighing the fallout in Kashmir and the rest of India. The President can return a file to the government once for reconsideration. He can also sit on a file.

Reactions from Congress leaders today suggested the party was conscious of the urgent need to bolster its credentials in the fight against terror. Unlike in the case of Ajmal Kasab where they got credit without talking, many leaders came out today to stress on zero tolerance for terrorism. Modi has built his political career on this plank and has started talking of development only after winning over the hardcore Hindu voters.

Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said: "We have sent the message to the world that we cannot tolerate terrorism at any cost. If anybody tries to commit any act of terror, he will be punished. People of our country and the government have zero tolerance against terrorism."

Alvi pointed out that the Parliament attack was plotted by militants released by the BJP-led government after the 1999 Kandahar hijack. Masood Azhar, one of the militants released, was the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammad that plotted the 2001 attack.

Another spokesperson, Abhishek Singhvi, said: "We have never played divisive politics on this issue as the BJP has done. We have not, as the BJP does, tried to make executions a barometer of our patriotism or jingoism."

Ten states go to the polls this year, many of them where the BJP is strong, before the general elections in 2014.

Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh's response made it clear the Congress intended to confront the BJP's propaganda that the government was soft on terrorism.

Appealing to parties not to politicise the issue, he blasted the BJP for talking of the delay in Afzal's execution. "The decision was taken after going through all standard procedures. Has the BJP not compromised with terrorists? After the hijack of the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar, who released the dreaded terrorists?"

The leaders hoped the situation in Kashmir would not go out of control, arguing no political or apolitical force is very powerful in the Valley.

The Congress knows the decision could disappoint minorities outside Kashmir too but hopes Modi's rise in the coming months would neutralise the anger.

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