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Serial protest for Afzal body

- Centre hints it is unlikely to accept handover demand

Feb. 18: Kashmir’s separatists today announced a fresh programme of protests and an Independent legislator submitted an Assembly resolution seeking Afzal Guru’s body, the twin moves coming amid signals the Centre was unlikely to accept the demand.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the issue should be decided in Parliament.

But a Union home ministry source suggested a decision had been taken. “In a meeting today, we decided not to hand over the body to his family as it will lead to serious law and order issues. We will formally announce the final decision in the next few days,” the source said.

The final decision will be conveyed to Afzal’s family through the Omar Abdullah government. Afzal’s wife Tabassum had last week written to the Omar government for the Parliament attack convict’s body. The letter was sent to the Centre.

Another central source warned that accepting the demand could set a dangerous precedent. “It will set a precedent fraught with dire consequences.”

But Afzal’s cousin Yasin suggested they had not given up hope yet. “We are awaiting a positive response from the Indian government. They denied us our basic right by hanging him without informing us. Now they must hand over the body,” he said over phone.

Union home secretary R.K. Singh had said days after the February 9 hanging that the family could visit Azal’s grave in Tihar jail, but they rejected the offer.

A senior Tihar official said today the family could take Afzal’s personal belongings. But Yasin suggested the body came first. “The first and foremost thing we want is his body.”

In the Valley, Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani today issued a fresh “protest calendar”, asking people to take out processions after evening prayers tomorrow and observe a two-day shutdown from Wednesday. Such protest calendars were common during the 2010 summer agitation in which 120 people lost their lives in alleged firing by security forces.

Geelani said the protests would continue till Afzal’s body was returned.

The cry also reached the House. Independent MLA Sheikh Abdul Rasheed, the architect of a failed Assembly resolution to save Afzal, today said he had submitted two separate resolutions.

One seeks the mortal remains of Afzal, and the other those of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhat, also hanged and buried in Tihar.

“Let the House resolve that the mortal remains of Mohammad Afzal Guru be handed over to his family for performing the last rites in accordance with his religion,” one resolution says. The Assembly session is scheduled to begin on February 28.

Rasheed appealed to Omar’s National Conference and the Opposition People’s Democratic Party for support. “If we failed to save his (Afzal’s) life, we should unite to bring at least his body back.”

The separatist-turned MLA claimed that the Centre was worried that people across Kashmir would flock to Afzal’s funeral. “They know it (such a large gathering) will be a referendum against them in Kashmir.”

Rasheed’s call came on a day the PDP accused the Centre of sacrificing Afzal for political reasons. Party president Mehbooba Mufti cited the intervention of the Supreme Court in the case of Veerappan’s associates and the stay on their execution even after the rejection of their mercy petition by the President.

“The entire sequence of events regarding Afzal reinforces the feeling among the people that Kashmir was treated differently and unjustly, which understandably feeds the larger political imbroglio,” Mehbooba said.