Hero for the state, villain for the centre

Afzal Guru was executed on 9-2-2013. Image courtesy: India Today
If you watched Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's interview to CNN-IBN, you got ample proof that the States of India are namesake entities created to cushion the Central Government from the backlashes of the people it oppresses.

In the interview, Abdullah was unequivocal in his protest against the Central Government’s decision to hang Afzal Guru, although it was mixed with a lot of verbiage about technicalities and logistics, and although he was visibly under the severe compulsion of sounding politically correct to New Delhi. In India, chief ministers are not allowed to be more than this.

Abdullah’s protest or not, the hanging happened and his State Government is now expected to do all the cleanup and ‘keep the situation under control’. If the ‘situation goes out of control’, it is construed to be Abdullah’s ‘incapability to sustain law and order in the State of Jammu and Kashmir’, and out he goes according to The Book.

And then, in comes the puppet from Rashtrapati Bhavan to rule Jammu and Kashmir in proxy for the Prime Minister of India. In the case of the Congress, the latter can only rule in proxy for the President of the Congress Party; in the case of the BJP, in proxy for the sarsangchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Since these people have exclusive control over The Gun in India, they have exclusive control over what it takes to ‘keep the situation under control’. Reminiscent of Lord Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse which gave the British Raj the power to take control of States whose rulers were perceived to be ‘manifestly incompetent’ in their rule? Where their ‘manifest imcompetence’ was created by the Raj itself?

‘Generations of Kashmiris will identify with Afzal Guru,’ cautioned Omar Abdullah in the interview. ‘You will have to prove to the world that the death penalty is not used selectively. The onus rests on the judiciary and the political leadership to show that this wasn't a selective execution.’

Abdullah has stated unequivocally that the executed Afzal Guru, whatever the seriousness of his crime from the point of view of the Central Government or the Opposition or chest-thumping nationalists of all hues, is a sort of icon in Jammu and Kashmir, a hero. Now, this is already a problem with the Idea of India that calls for his execution. How can someone be a hero for a State and a villain for the Centre?

If the Idea of India is postulated on awarding the death penalty to the heroes of its States, what kind of a nation are we living in? If a man who, according to the Central Government, is involved in an attack on the so-called temple of Indian democracy (and that's already a problem; some will want the word mosque inserted here!), is a hero in one of its States, what kind of a democracy is it in the first place?

If the chief minister of a democratically elected State Government feels that the judiciary and the political leadership at the Centre are selectively using capital punishment to target the heroes of his State while leaving the heroes of other States roam scot-free, is there equality in India?

How will the Central Government ‘prove to the world that the death penalty is not used selectively’? By executing the heroes of the other States? Indeed, how does Omar Abdullah want this proof to be given to the world? And finally, will the ‘generations of Kashmiris’, who identify with Afzal Guru according to Abdullah, be satisfied if that proof is provided? Will that be equivalent to the rebirth of their hero?

These are tough questions, and the future of morality in India depends on the Central Government not shying away from them or answering them with The Gun. To even begin to answer them without putting the unity and integrity of India at risk from the very outset, not only the Central Government but every Indian will have to realize that Afzal Guru and others who attacked the Parliament House are extreme personifications of the undercurrent of widespread protest against an Idea of India that is fundamentally flawed: one postulated on taking all the power, including the power to decide who is a hero and who is a villain, away from the people and depositing it in the Parliament House in the first place.

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