Need to scrap Art. 370

Dr. Farooq Abdullah's staggering assertion that the sessions judge who awarded the death penalty to Afzal Guru for his role in 2001 attack on Parliament could be murdered by Kashmiri terrorists carries the implicit threat that the High Court and Supreme Court judges who upheld the verdict could meet a similar fate. This follows fear scenarios raised by Dr. Abdullah and State politicians like chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Hurriyat leader Yasin Malik that the Valley will burn if Afzal is executed, particularly in the month of Ramzan. These arguments have not merely communalized the crime and punishment of Afzal Guru; they have made him the symbol of the obduracy and cussed non-nationalism of Kashmiri Muslims.

It is high time the rest of India looked at the mote in the eyes of its Kashmiri Muslim citizens. Decades of evasion and double-talk have inured us to the duplicity of politicians across the political spectrum, but now, with clemency for Afzal also linked to a possible disruption in the so-called peace process with Pakistan, it is time to ask some hard questions. What is the citizenship of Kashmiri Muslims and what is the purpose of the peace process America has imposed upon New Delhi if not to cede territory to Pakistan at some future date? Is this why the UPA wanted to withdraw from Siachin?

Are Pak-friendly separatists like Yasin Malik complicit in the gameplan to take all of Kashmir to Pakistan, or will a future Pakistani 'occupation' surprise them? Do they really believe an 'independent' Kashmir, one that is not the stooge of the Christian West, is viable and possible? Their dangerous game strengthens my belief that jihadi Islam is only a mercenary tool of Western neo-colonialism. It is no threat to India; our high calibre police and military forces can tackle it any day, provided they are not betrayed by the pusillanimity of politicians who can be browbeaten or blackmailed by external agencies.

As Kashmiri Muslim politicians have made Afzal a case of Kashmir vs. the rest of India, the nation has to choose between surrendering or rising to the challenge by abolishing the obnoxious Article 370 without further ado. This is both desirable and possible, as Arvind Lavakare has argued in his thoroughly researched The Truth About Article 370 (Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, 2005). MLAs refusing to vote out the Article may be given the opt-out clause offered to Muslims in 1947. As Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru perpetuated Mr. Jinnah's occupation of a portion of Kashmir at the instance of former colonial Lord Louis Mountbatten, there is no justice in eternally privileging of Kashmiri Muslims, especially after their shameful treatment of the State's Hindu community.

The demand for abolition of Article 370 should logically have come from the BJP, but the continued eminence of its venerable Twin Towers whose acts of omission and commission hang around its neck like an albatross, has wet its ammunition. One of the terrorists involved in the infamous Kandahar hijack was previously released in lieu of the daughter of the then Union Home Minister. Though supporting Mr. V.P. Singh's government from outside, the BJP did not demand Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's resignation or at least change of portfolio, even after it became known that Rubaiya Sayeed was friendly with her so-called kidnappers.

Kandahar , of course, is an eternal shame for the Vajpayee government, even if Mr. Advani distances himself from the scandal. Yet it was Mr. Advani who assured Portugal that India would not award the death penalty to Abu Salem, in return for his deportation. He did this without taking the nation into confidence, and without caring for the manner in which he compromised the dignity of the Indian judiciary.

Of course, the primary responsibility for raising the Afzal issue vests with the Congress party. It is inconceivable that chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad could have demanded clemency without permission from Ms. Sonia Gandhi, who has maintained another irritating and duplicitous silence, though the issue is tearing the nation apart. The perception of public revulsion forced Congress to nudge senior leader Digvijay Singh to oppose the mercy petition, but the party spokesperson and some of its media friends are trying to make a case regarding the morality of the death penalty. Interestingly, given Mr. Azad's concerns, should we assume there will be no action against those who attacked the J&K Assembly, as the culprits are certain to be Muslims and denizens of the hallowed Valley?

The Congress is playing with fire. Many bleeding hearts in the post-Godhra Gujarat riots have since been unnerved by Mumbai's second serial blasts of 2006, which killed 285 and injured a thousand. By coincidence, the trial is ending in the 1993 serial blasts which killed 300 persons, and citizens will want stiff punishments meted out to the guilty. Some liberals now see merit in a strong State.

Communal polarization is an Indian reality, aggravated by the politics of minority appeasement and vote banks. Lobbying for clemency for an act of high treason against the State on the ground that the accused is a Muslim from the indisciplined Kashmir valley is a new low, and derives from Ms. Sonia Gandhi's political ascent and her desire to accentuate Muslim separatism in all walks of life. Even the agony of the families of the martyred policemen has failed to impress her of the need to stand for justice and rule of law. Instead, politicians across the spectrum are being encouraged to demand subversion of the judicial process.

On the issue of terrorist attacks, former Chief Justice of India Mr. R.C. Lahoti opined: "Which penalty is required other than death for this dastardly act? .. We forget the family of those killed, injured and totally uprooted�" He emphasized that the first duty of Government is to enforce the law. "There is no other way to maintain an ordered and moral society. Nothing can destroy a Government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws or worse, its own disregard of the charter of its existence." To this I would only add that the Prophet himself breached the sanctity of the holy Ramzan for tactical advantage; we would do well to emulate his example. Afzal should hang on the scheduled date.