Unlike other cases, the CPI(M)-led LDF government in Kerala has not found it easy to denounce death penalty for Govindachamy.

Is the Soumya case pushing the CPI M into an ideological dilemma over capital punishment
news Politics Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 18:40

After the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in 2013, the CPI (M) came down heavily on the UPA government, taking a clear stand on death penalty, calling it “inhuman.”

The party’s position was no different when 1993 Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memon was hanged in 2015.

Now, a year later Left parties appear to be caught in an ideological conflict after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Govindachamy to life imprisonment in the sensational Soumya case in Kerala.

While refuting allegations that the prosecution had failed to prove murder charges against the convict, Kerala Law Minister and CPI (M) Central Committee Member A K Balan declared that state would file a review petition seeking maximum punishment under section 302.

Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done, which translates to awarding capital punishment for Govindachamy in this case.

While Balan’s declaration follows public outrage over the apex court’s verdict, the minister’s statement contradicts the party’s views on the death sentence.  

Responding to the issue, CPI (M) Polit Bureau Member MA Baby opposed the move calling capital punishment as “highly primitive that must be done away with.”

“This is not a specific stance for Govindachami alone. We would have held the same view even if Nathuram Vinayak Godse, who killed Mahatma Gandhi, was on trial today,” The New Indian Express quoted him as saying.

Party veteran VS Achuthanandan’s stand was no different.

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat had in 2013, called death penalty inhuman saying,

“Instead of capital punishment, the party wants that in rarest of the rare cases and most heinous crimes, life imprisonment should be extended for the entire life of the person convicted with no scope for remission."

The CPI (M) statement after the hanging of Yakub Memon said that death sentence alone will not serve the interests of justice, noting "Even those convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case with the death sentence have had their sentences commuted to life.”

But unlike other cases, the CPI(M)-led LDF government in Kerala has not found it easy to denounce death penalty for Govindachamy.

Though party veterans including MA Baby and VS Achuthanandan spoke against awarding death penalty, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s calculated silence over death penalty is an indication of the conflict the Left is facing.

Meeting Soumya’s mother Sumathi on Tuesday, Pinarayi assured her that justice will be served to Soumya. And if this re-assurance was not enough, Pinarayi went on to call Soumya “Kerala’s daughter.”

Other CPI (M) leaders in the state too, are cautious over the issue.

  Former CPI state secretary Pannyan Raveendran told The News Minute that the party takes a stand on death penalty on a case-to-case basis.

“Soumya’s was one of the most brutal crimes the state witnessed. The sanctity of capital punishment should be discussed at a different level.  But here the party is with people’s emotions,” he said.

CPI (M) Polit Bureau member S Ramachandran Pillai told The News Minute that the Kerala government’s decision to file a review petition in Soumya case should be seen strictly as an attempt to charge Govindachamy for murder.

 “As a party, we have been demanding that the provision of death penalty be made illegal. However, as far as the Kerala government is concerned, it can only act within the laws prescribed by the land,” Ramachandran explained.

The leader, however, was elusive when asked if ministers of the LDF government seen demanding death sentence for Govindachamy was against the party ideology.

He said, “At this point, the government has demanded the inclusion of murder charges in the case. Whether the government will comply to death penalty if it is so awarded to the convict, will be decided only at a later stage. CPI (M) stand on the issue will also be based on the verdict,” he said.

Reiterating that the CPI (M) is ideologically against awarding death penalty, Ramachandran emphasised that the party’s stand and the Kerala government’s stand should not be read together. 

“The UPA government has responded to the vociferous demand raised by the BJP and Narendra Modi that Afzal Guru should be hanged,” a CPI (M) statement in 2013 reads. 

It remains to be seen how the LDF government will respond to the ideological conflict, given the public sentiment against Govindachamy in the state. 


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