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In just 10 days, President delivers

New Delhi, Nov. 21: President Pranab Mukherjee took 10 days to sign the death warrant of Ajmal Kasab.

The petitions of 11 other condemned convicts were lined up ahead of Kasab’s file but the queue was jumped reflecting the dexterity a President can display without interfering in the domain of the executive.

Mukherjee’s predecessor Pratibha Singh Patil had disposed of 22 cases during her tenure from 2007 to 2012. Out of these she only rejected mercy petition in three cases. Nine of these mercy petitions were processed in the last six months of her tenure.

The Union home ministry had forwarded Kasab’s file to the President’s secretariat on October 16. The file was put up for the President’s consideration on October 26.

According to sources, the President read the file from cover to cover. On November 2, he met attorney-general G. Vahanvati and had a closed door meeting for a couple of hours.

Some sources said the matter was discussed with both UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, though official sources claimed neither of the two was in the picture.

Three days later, on November 5, Mukherjee, known as a stickler for detail in administrative matters, signed the file in the morning itself and despatched it back to the home ministry. Other than the core-ring of his staff, no one else was aware of the movement of what could be the most dramatic paperwork from Rashtrapati Bhavan this year.

True to Mukherjee’s understated style, it was business as usual at the President’s Estate on November 5. In the evening, he conferred the Durgabai Deshmukh Awards and delivered a speech. The speech did not have any hint of national security or terrorism. The next day, he was off to Chhattisgarh for the Rajyotsav celebrations.

“There was no drama whatsoever. Otherwise a religious man, he did not visit any temple on the day he signed the file,” said a senior official, unwittingly referring to superstition among some bureaucrats and ministers while handling hot-button papers.

But 10 days later, the President did visit Shirdi. He was scheduled to go to Mumbai on November 15 to present the Jamnalal Bajaj Awards. According to sources, Shirdi was added at the last minute to the programme.

The stated reason was inauguration of the Shree Sai Niwas Dharamshala at Shirdi. The President made sure to visit Sai Baba’s shrine at Shirdi. He also met the head priest and spent more than an hour inside the temple. A special puja and aarti were organised by the trust which manages Shirdi.

The dispassionate propriety that preceded the signature was in place after the execution, too. Hours after Kasab was hanged, the President presented the national safety awards of the mines ministry.

Soon after his address, a few journalists from Bengal posed questions in Bengali on the hanging to the President.

“Absolutely not,” the President said, in English, and walked off.

The President has two politically sensitive death sentences on his table now: that of Afzal Guru and Rajiv Gandhi’s killers.

A third, more pleasant, task awaits Mukherjee tomorrow: his son Abhijeet Mukherjee will be sworn in as MP from Jangipur.