The noose is tightening
The doomed man, in solitary confinement for the better part of 22 years, in his last days reminded one of a helpless bird throwing itself again and again against the walls of the cage, in its desperate, frantic attempts to escape its imminent fate. Little did he realize his entreaties were not loud enough to breach the stony walls of the citadels of power.
That it was no use crying out for mercy and compassion and pointless for his family to run from pillar to post, and from governor to the Supreme Court to president, seeking pardon, or at least a life sentence instead of death. His fate had been sealed.
It is not the Middle Ages, after all, when those in distress could approach the high and mighty to seek swift justice and mercy, as many did during Jahangir’s time by ringing the mammoth bell that the Mughal emperor hung in his place. No, sir, all hell would break loose if justice were so freely and fairly available.
Today, the honorable judges have to look to their left and to their right and take into account the ‘collective conscience’ of society and the will of the mob and those in power before they determine who must hang or who deserves to enjoy the fruits of the taxpayer’s labor for the rest of his life.
This President, who has an unimpeachable record of rejecting mercy petitions of 97 percent death row convicts, could hardly have allowed this blemish on his patriotic credentials to now pardon someone who has come to epitomize the first major terror attack on Indian soil. Especially when you have a nationalist government in Delhi led by a patriotic prime minister. It was a perfect opportunity to make an example of Memon and send we-mean-business message to everyone concerned including those pesky neighbors, bleeding-heart liberals and the world at large.
How could anyone, including the BJP government in Maharashtra and in Delhi led by a 56-inch chest PM and an obliging Congress have passed up on such a heaven-sent opportunity?
It was a matter of national interest, after all. A million Yakub Memons could hang in the interest of the nation! And if they did not exist, they will have to be invented to drive home the message of the coming of age of a mature democracy and a global superpower that will brook no nonsense from anyone.
What was Memon thinking, placing his guileless faith in the objectivity and sense of fair play of the nation’s judiciary and democratic institutions and having the audacity to return to the land of his birth, ostensibly giving up good life and protection on the other side?
If he thought his blood ties to Tiger Memon, the main accused in the 1993 Bombay blasts case, would at best get him a few years in jail and a gentle rap on the knuckles perhaps, as he was apparently promised by his RAW and CBI handlers, how grievously naive has he been proven! A mistake for which he ended up paying by spending 22 years in jail and eventually with his life.
If Yakub and other Memons goofed up big time by fleeing to Pakistan, of all places, from Dubai when terror struck Bombay, they committed an even graver blunder, it turns out, by choosing to return to clear their name.
The blessed republic has proved all over again that the wheels of justice turn for only those who have the misfortune of getting caught or are born with a wrong name. As Shuddabhrata Sengupta argues in Kafila: “A Bal Thackeray can spend decades giving speeches and writing editorials that hold out naked threats of violence, and have murders and rioting occur in the wake of these threats, and still be given a state funeral, and that a Yakub Memon can hang after risking his life and reputation to implicate his own brother because of the violence that may have sickened him.
“In this country, one man’s bloodlust earns him a gun salute, and another man’s remorse earns him the gallows. The caprice that marks this distinction has less to do with the gravity of the offense than it has to do with the identity of the accused. Get bail if you are Maya Kodnani or Amit Shah, hang if you are Afzal Guru or Yakub Memon. The equation is transparently simple.”
Where do we go from here? I cannot claim a third eye to look into the distant, hazy future. Memon’s execution may have caused barely a ripple in Lutyens’ Delhi and the larger establishment. The ever loquacious, ubiquitous Indian media was forced to move on, after that gag order on the coverage of Memon’s last journey, blacking out the sea of humanity that turned up to say farewell to the ‘terrorist.’
The manner of Memon’s end may have, however, quietly altered the attitude and the worldview of his people. It showed them their place, like nothing else could.
By summarily and repeatedly rejecting the desperate pleas for mercy by the condemned man and appeals by various civil society groups, former supreme court judges, politicians and even posthumous pangs of conscience of B Raman, the top RAW official who brought Memons in from the cold, the top court and the deep state drove home the message that Muslims shouldn’t get carried away by all those solemn assurances offered by the Indian constitution. There will always be two standards of justice in this country, one for them and one for the rest.
Else the same court the same day wouldn’t have offered lifeline to the killers of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh while sending Memon to the gallows. One was hopelessly green when the madness that swept away the country and a 16th century mosque at Ayodhya in 1992. One experienced the same overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness on July 30. A distraught journalist friend known for his ‘middle of the road’ approach to life was so shaken that he called up in the middle of the night to demand: “What are we gonna do now? I have never felt more miserable and lonelier in my life, not even during the time of Ayodhya turmoil! Is this the country that our children will be inheriting?”
I could offer him little solace. It’s doubtless a depressing scenario. Nevertheless, we cannot afford to abandon hope. For, all is lost when hope is squandered. For all its warts and the recent ascent of the rabid Right to power, this is still a great country, largely thanks to the innate humanity and sense of justice of the reasonable majority.
Amid all the gloom and doom, there’s a ray of hope in the voices like those of Teesta Setalvad and other fellow travelers who have repeatedly put their own lives on line to speak for the voiceless and dispossessed.
It is because of the noble, blessed spirits like theirs that there is still hope for India. Doubtless, the past couple of weeks have been traumatic for many of us. But, hey, it’s not the end of the world. This is no time to hide or retreat to our communal ghettos to lick our collective wounds. Besides, as Odysseus would advise, Patience, stout heart, thou hast endured much worse than this.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view