Post-Afzal Guru execution, BJPís Rajoana question

Semi Column

A part of the state ruling coalition with the Akali Dal, the Punjab unit of the BJP finds itself in a bind over the issue of execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted for the assassination of Beant Singh.

As the national leaders of the party welcome the hanging of Afzal Guru and call for expeditious punishment to all those involved in attacks on symbols of democracy, the stand is in glaring opposition to the Akali Dal's demand for clemency for Rajoana. It is not surprising, therefore, that top leaders of the two parties in Punjab are avoiding commenting on the issue after Afzal's hanging, apart from an ambiguous statement by an Akali spokesman recently that the party was against capital punishment.

It hasn't been as reticent on Rajoana earlier. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal with his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had approached the Union home minister two days before the scheduled hanging of Rajoana to demand clemency for him. They had defended their stand citing "sentiments of the people" and the need to maintain law and order.

Rajoana himself has not sought clemency and while admitting his role in the assassination, he has never expressed remorse for his act.

The Akal Takht, where the Akali Dal wields considerable influence, also declared Rajoana a "zinda shaheed".

The Punjab BJP has so far taken the cautious stand that the law would take its own course. However, even as it realises the situation's potential to cost them votes, there is little it can do.

Its numbers in the Assembly went down in the last polls from 19 to 13, and the Akalis are no longer totally dependent on the BJP to run the government unlike in the previous term.

The weak and inefficient state leadership, which is diffident in taking any stand, has further contributed to the BJP finding itself helpless.

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