Process and punishment

That the punishment of Ajmal Kasab, the face of the Mumbai terror attacks, caught on CCTV spraying bullets, took a full four years, has provoked anger and frustration. There is no denying, however, that Kasab's trial scrupulously followed due process. He was charged with murder and waging war against India, and the case took a year in the special court, with full consideration given to his shifting statements. After the trial court's verdict in May 2010, Kasab appealed to the Bombay High Court, which upheld the death sentence in 2011. The case then went to the Supreme Court, which stayed the high court's order to re-examine it, until August 29 this year, when it confirmed the death sentence. Kasab appealed to the president for clemency, the petition was shot down on November 5 and two weeks later, he was hanged in Pune's Yerwada Jail. As Kasab exhausted each of his legal options, the case framed the criminal justice system's respect for the rights of

the accused.

Having said that, the Ajmal Kasab case has also been a politically charged affair, and for this, government and opposition must share responsibility. Each day he spent in prison was sought to be projected as the weakness of a terrorist-appeasing government or a slack system. What it cost to keep him in jail was bitterly talked up; "biryani for Kasab" became rhetorical shorthand for the allegedly twisted priorities of the government. The government in turn, visibly equivocated and spoke of queues. In such a context, the timing of the execution could be read as politically expedient for a besieged government poised on the edge of a crucial parliamentary session, and in the midst of an unfolding election in Gujarat. All sides would do well to remember, though, that Kasab was only the most visible part of 26/11, and much harder work remains to be done, diplomatically and legally, to bring to justice those who planned and engineered the Mumbai attacks.

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