New Delhi, Nov. 21: Ajmal Kasab’s execution caught the BJP unawares, like much of the country.
The party’s response swung between aggression and acquiescence, prompted by fears the Centre and the Maharashtra government’s coup might blunt the edge of its slogans that questioned the “millions of rupees” “poured” to keep Kasab “comfortable” in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail.
Aggression towards Afzal Guru who awaits a death sentence; acquiescence after it occurred that scoring political points over the Congress at this juncture might be futile and counter-productive.
So barring a tweet or two and sound bites, the BJP’s media cell focused single-mindedly on purveying news and pictures of the country-wide demonstrations staged by its leaders against retail FDI, price rise and other issues. Till late this evening, there was no response from party chief Nitin Gadkari or seniors like L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
The RSS, however, directed the parivar members to “celebrate” the hanging. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal said the “elimination” of a “Ravan incarnate” was reason to celebrate Diwali again.
Narendra Modi — seeking a third-term in Gujarat — ostensibly forgot that his publicised appearance at Mumbai’s Gateway of India after 26/11 never went down well with the kin of the victims or the city’s residents. He was the first off the block to ask why the Centre sat tight on the hanging of Afzal Guru over the 2001 Parliament attack.
In his Twitter post, the Gujarat chief minister said: “What about Afzal Guru, who attacked Parliament, our temple of democracy? That offence predates Kasab’s heinous act by many years.” The BJP was in power when the attack occurred and Advani was the home minister.
Although Modi has so far stuck to his “achievements” and “development” in his election discourse, he occasionally raised doubts over why the Centre and the Congress were “dragging their feet” over Kasab. His articulations were interwoven the leitmotifs his Gujarat audience is used to by now: projection of Pakistan as the “enemy” and a suggestion that the “secular” Congress “pandered” to Kasab because he was Muslim.
With communal polarisation deep in much of Gujarat, Modi’s anti-Muslim rhetoric doesn’t have the novelty of the “Miya Musharraf” speeches of 2002 in which he slammed the then Pakistan President. But Gujarat Congress sources said that if Modi attacked the Congress over its alleged “soft” stand on terror and “minority appeasement”, they now had a weapon to silence him.
The Congress, the sources said, has another ace up its sleeve if Modi makes an issue of Guru. Their leaders can remind Gujarat that in 1999, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister, he saw to it that his foreign minister Jaswant Singh accompanied three Taliban terrorists to their sanctuary across the border on an official aircraft in exchange for the release of a hijacked plane.
However, others ramped up pressure for Guru’s execution. Chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “Better late than never. But why has the government not taken any action (on Guru)?” Party colleague Shahnawaz Hussain said Mumbaikars would “get relief” only when Kasab’s handlers in Pakistan were brought to book.