Congress party’s hypocrisy on issues of nationalism, communalism and caste are not new. Throughout its history since Independence, it has been opportunistic. The party has dabbled in soft Hindutva when it saw it being useful, or taken to disgraceful minority-pandering when required. Rahul Gandhi’s theatrics at JNU and University of Hyderabad recently are good examples of how the party goes on a moral grandstanding overdrive when it finds it convenient.
P Chidamabaram’s recent interview with Economic Times however takes the cake.
After being one of the most influential ministers for 10 years under the UPA regime, a Home Minister directly dealing with death penalty cases for a considerable period, and then keeping silent while his government, with an apparent eye on the 2014 elections, hanged Afzal Guru in near-secrecy, the former Union Minister now has the audacity to say, “There were grave doubts about his involvement (in the conspiracy behind the attack on Parliament) and even if he was involved, there were grave doubts about the extent of his involvement. He could have been imprisoned for life without parole for rest of his natural life.”
"I think it is possible to hold an honest opinion that the Afzal Guru case was perhaps not correctly decided," he told ET, adding, "But being in government you cannot say the court has decided the case wrongly because it was the government that prosecuted him. But an independent person can hold an opinion that the case was not decided correctly."
Chidambaram has never had it too tough in public discourse. Journalists don’t take him head on, and when he was a minister, he was feared. The fallout of that has been that he, along with the Congress party, gets away with such blatant political double-speak.
And the person who knew this best was Afzal Guru himself.
In 2008, in an interview to IANS, he said,
"I don't think the (UPA) government can ever reach a decision. The Congress party has two mouths and is playing a double game. I really wish LK Advani becomes India's next prime minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily suffering would ease then.”
Afzal however was wrong on two counts. LK Advani never stood a chance at Prime-Ministership, and the Congress was cunning enough to eventually take the political decision of hanging him, just ahead of 2014 elections. They can take decisions, but they have to be a purely political, devoid of any humanity.
And Chidambaram’s interview is an example of such political manipulation, and is problematic at many levels.
One, why did he not make his doubts publicly known, wasn’t the life of a possibly innocent man worth it? At the very least, he could have made it public that a life sentence was more appropriate?
Two, why can’t you question the court when you are in government? Isn’t that just an excuse for political convenience? Does he not disagree with the SC verdict on section 377?
Three, will he then agree that his politics over Afzal is marginally different, if not far worse, from that of the BJP’s? BJP believes and says that Afzal was guilty, and wanted to hang him. He did not believe so, and yet he allowed for him to be hanged in muted silence. That he could not go against the wishes of the party can only be a lie, or mean that he is spineless.
What is the problem with this hypocrisy you ask? It’s that the Congress party continues to perpetuate injustice while not ceding space to a more genuine liberal politics. When you shout from the rooftops supporting Afzal and then go and hang him, you are helping perpetuate the myth that a more sensitive India which shuns the death penalty is not possible.
When asked about the fact that it was his own government that executed Afzal, he told ET, “That is true, but I was not the home minister then...I can't say what I would have done. It is only when you sitting on that seat you take that decision."
True. When you are not in the hot seat, you can say anything you want.
Image: Youtube, WEF via Wikipedia Commons