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Cong ducks & defends

New Delhi, Feb. 11: The Congress continues to defend strongly the government’s decision to hang Afzal Guru, arguing there was no scope for an alternative view after the President’s rejection of his mercy petition.

The party described politics on the issue as “unfortunate”, went to the extent of disagreeing with Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah’s claims about “selective decisions” and asserted that due process of law would be followed in every case.

The Congress is worried about a backlash in Kashmir but insists the law is supreme and above sentiments. “The court is the best forum to decide guilt and there is no question of having a political or personal view,” party spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said.

On procedural formalities, like informing the family, Dikshit said it was up to the home ministry, seeking to avoid answering such questions on the party’s behalf.

Union information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari, the government’s spokesperson, dealt with the questions raised by Omar in an extremely cautious and guarded manner. Omar’s National Conference is an ally of the Congress, on which his government depends for support.

Asked about Omar’s statements, Tewari said: “Every individual and every leader is free to express his or her views. However, it is important to remember that capital punishment is given in the rarest of rare cases .”

The minister then sought to suggest Omar’s statement was another view on a “sensitive” issue. “There can never be a one-size-fits-all (view).”

Congress leaders have been talking about “zero tolerance” on terror and privately admitting the BJP’s “abnormal politics” on the issue had to be countered forcefully.

Rahul Gandhi, who today started his Tripura poll campaign against the advice of security agencies that forced Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi to cancel their tours of the Northeast, did not mention terror in his speeches.

That the Congress needed to address the charge of being soft on terror was reflected in President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at a conference of governors today. The President said there had been improvement in internal security but emphasised “we must be unwavering in our efforts to thwart anti-national forces ”.