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Congress shows tactical maturity

New Delhi, Nov. 21: The Congress leadership today affected complete absorption in matters relating to the Parliament session beginning tomorrow, as if nothing significant had happened today.

The party issued whips to members and worked out House strategies. There was not one suo motu mention of Ajmal Kasab at the regular evening briefing.

Although the politically innocent wondered why the Congress was not using the hanging to bolster its nationalist credentials, others saw in the handling of the situation a reflection of the dexterity the party had acquired through decades of governance.

If the pre-execution secrecy was a tactical feat, the dispassionate response later was a study in political maturity. Both party and government are aware of the sensitivities involved and realise that tough decisions can bring unforeseen consequences in a troubled world.

Senior ministers reacted with sobriety and restraint since morning, with the emphasis on the due process of law rather than any desire for revenge.

In the evening, the party was willing to talk only about the upcoming Parliament session, secure in the knowledge that the hanging had somewhat altered the circumstances under which the House would reconvene.

The beleaguered government will now enter the session with greater confidence, and perhaps a degree of goodwill, despite the threat of a no-confidence motion and the looming attacks on corruption charges.

After an unscheduled meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the Congress said they had discussed parliamentary strategy.

At the regular briefing, when spokesperson P.C. Chacko failed to broach the topic of Kasab, he was bombarded with queries. He responded with a deadpan face: “It is the completion of a judicial process.”

When it was suggested that the country had seen a bold government after a long time, he said: “It is not a decision of the government. The due process of law was followed. (It’s) nothing like bold, strong or weak — we don’t see it that way.”

Chacko indicated that any comparison with Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru, whose mercy petition is pending with the President, was unfair.

Congress leaders privately explained that Afzal’s case was different: he is an Indian and all major parties in Jammu and Kashmir have appealed for clemency for him.

Publicly, party leaders would only say that the due process of law had been followed and that it would be inappropriate to comment on the President’s decision or its timing.

Congress leaders appreciated the government’s secrecy, saying “abnormal pressures” would otherwise have come into play and a public frenzy could have vitiated the atmosphere.

Although home minister Sushil Shinde claimed that neither the Prime Minister nor Sonia had been told in advance about the execution, party leaders conceded that such a huge decision could not have been taken without clearance from the top.

While President Pranab Mukherjee is believed to have played a key role and provided guidance, the Congress core group would have discussed the move and its timing to the last detail.

Now that the tenor of the political discourse is likely to shift somewhat in the government’s favour, Congress managers ruled out surrendering in the House to the Opposition, which has sought a vote on the retail FDI decision.

Instead, the party dared the Opposition to bring the threatened no-trust motion.