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Cong unease on ‘unfair’ hanging finds voice

New Delhi, Feb. 12: Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh today gave voice to murmurs in the party about the way Afzal Guru’s execution was handled, saying it was “unfair” if the Parliament attack convict was denied a chance of meeting his family.

“According to procedures, the convict’s last wish has to be granted. If it has not been done, it is unfair,” Digvijaya said.

The government has claimed it did whatever was required, perhaps the reason Digvijaya qualified his criticism with the word “if”.

Many Congress leaders privately shared Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah’s view that the decision to inform Afzal’s family of his execution by post was tragic.

The letter, deposited for despatch at 12.07am on February 8, a day before the hanging in Tihar jail, reached Afzal’s family in Kashmir yesterday, 51 hours late.

Omar’s other complaint — that the government was adopting a “selective” approach in deciding mercy petitions — also found support among many Congress leaders, including Digvijaya. “We cannot pick and choose cases of terror,” the Congress veteran, who has often been told off by the leadership for crossing the party line, said. “It has to be uniform and without any bias.”

Sources said there was no denying the extreme unease among a section of leaders. “If we were left with no option after the Supreme Court’s verdict and the rejection of the mercy petition, we could have shown greater sensitivity in dealing with the execution,” one minister told The Telegraph.

Many party leaders said the execution could seriously undermine the peace process in Kashmir and feared the repercussions would be felt for a long time to come.

The Centre wanted a relaxation in the curfew in the Valley to allow protests, which would be less dangerous than suppressing the emotions of the people, but the state is apprehensive of a major backlash. Neither the Centre nor the state has been able to decide the course of action so far.

A section of the Congress is also unhappy with the police and the government over the way journalist Iftikhar Gilani, son-in-law of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was treated hours after Afzal’s Saturday morning execution.

While Iftikhar and his wife were put under house arrest, their children were locked up in a room separately. The policemen, who were not accompanied by any woman constable, sat inside the house.

Asked if a senior, accredited journalist could be harassed in this way just because he happened to be related to a separatist leader, Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit chose to neither denounce the incident nor express a word of sympathy.

Iftikhar had suffered during NDA rule, too, when he was put behind bars for nine months on the false charge of passing on secrets to Pakistan.

Press Council chairman Markandey Katju has condemned the incident and asked the Union home secretary to take action against the policemen.

But the Congress chose to ignore the entire incident, with spokespersons expressing ignorance about the facts and asking the media to seek answers from the home ministry.