After Saturday

The December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament will remain frozen in collective memory as an assault on the most evocative symbol of India's democracy. But the daring siege mounted by terrorists on that day was not merely symbolic. It could have ended up as a massacre of India's top leadership. It set in motion a chain of consequences that nearly destabilised the subcontinent, brought India and Pakistan to the edge of war. Now, the hanging of Afzal Guru on Saturday brings a measure of closure. While it may be possible to debate the death penalty — to support, reject or take a qualified view on it — till it exists on the statute books, it lends itself for use in the rarest of rare cases. And there are no reasonable grounds to doubt that the highest court of the land applied its most rigorous standards of justice in affirming it in the case of Afzal Guru.

Unfortunately, and predictably, the due process in the case of the Parliament attack convict had become intertwined with the politics of terror and the unfolding predicament of Kashmir. The wanton politicisation of terror has interfered with, and distorted, public view of the Parliament attack case, and for that, parties across the spectrum must take responsibility. The Shiromani Akali Dal has come out in loud support for the killer of Beant Singh; the DMK has choreographed outrage against the death penalty to Rajiv Gandhi's killers; and in these and other cases, the BJP and Congress have blinked at their allies' irresponsible attempts to politicise terror when they have not joined the game themselves. Meanwhile, in Kashmir, it has been a story of half-beginnings and missed opportunities, especially since a new calm settled in the Valley after 2010. Popular frustrations and resentments at the continued lack of follow-through on political promises and initiatives, and reports of committees and interlocutors, have contributed to this moment when it seems that Afzal Guru's hanging may rally together the separatists and force mainstream politicians on the backfoot.

In Saturday's aftermath, the onus of a new beginning is on both government and opposition. They must attempt to extricate the Parliament attack case from the political currents it has become mired in. It is necessary to do so for what must be seen to be a higher — and shared — purpose: to salvage and shore up the credibility of the Indian state against terror. In the budget session and the run-up to general elections, the political leadership on all sides must speak with the utmost sobriety and restraint. Terrorism has no colour, and no matter which ideology it claims to draw from, it must invite the toughest punishment.

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