Who is afraid of Yakub Memon?

Published July 28, 2015
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

YOU would have thought that a living Yakub Memon would worry Pakistan if he dodges the hangman’s noose in Nagpur. Why is the Indian government looking over-eager to snuff out his life this week, on his birthday, after keeping him dangling on death row for nearly a decade?

We haven’t heard from Pakistan about the Memon controversy raging in India. Remember that he had alleged Pakistani officials were complicit in his secret asylum in Karachi together with other conspirators after they fled Mumbai having fixed the 1993 blasts. More than 250 innocent civilians died in the carnage.

On Monday morning I was watching Yakub’s 1994 interview on YouTube. Newstrack’s Madhu Trehan had met him shortly after he surrendered to the Indian police in Kathmandu. The police claim he was arrested without his volition but the man who lured him back to India denies that.

It is curious how capital crime suspects are allowed to make ‘exclusive’ TV appearances in India when they are securely under police custody. It is curious too that these interviews incriminate the suspects in collusion with well-briefed prime-time TV anchors. This is exactly what happened with Afzal Guru too. The Kashmiri fruit vendor was abruptly hanged to “satisfy the collective conscience of society”, as the Supreme Court put it, in the 2001 parliament attack case. His old interview was played on the eve of his mercy petition by a TV channel that prides itself on fair journalism.

In the Memon interview I was watching online, he was giving vivid details of how this Pakistani individual or that Pakistani agent had whisked him and his family off the PIA plane in Karachi when they were heading to Dubai from Mumbai. Memon offered specific facts about how he went to Thailand, why he hated to talk to his elder brother who was also lodged in Karachi, the main accused in the blasts, thought to be a close associate of Dawood Ibrahim.


In the right-wing mayhem that passes for nationalist virtue, there has emerged hope of a resistance.


Suddenly the interview disappeared and the screen had this message flashing: “Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.” The Indian government took off the Yakub Memon interview, in which he more or less blamed Pakistan for the Mumbai blasts. Why?

It is tempting to see this bizarre event as an attempt at censorship – how else does one describe it? On a bigger scale, a recent fiat from the Modi government moved to filter out nosey journalists from the hub of decision-making. An official notice said no officer or minister can henceforth meet the media directly. They have to go through the spokesperson of a concerned ministry. This was not so bad even in Indira Gandhi’s emergency days. It is another matter that some journalists were prepared “to crawl when they were asked to bend” during the emergency.

So what is the purpose behind the hurry to hang Yakub Memon? What is the need to hide what he has said years ago from public view today, particularly when the comments he makes incriminate Pakistan, and, of course, himself? A simple explanation is: bloody-mindedness, a feature of ascendant Indian polity of late. Bloody-mindedness is thought to give temporary relief from domestic difficulties too, and something more. It keeps India’s ultra nationalist agenda nicely oiled.

Consider an example. Ajmal Kasab, the Mumbai terror convict in the November 2008 murders, was executed in secrecy in Pune in November 2012. His chief prosecutor falsely claimed at the time that Kasab had been demanding biryani in jail.

The biryani story has been used to justify amazing acts of nationalist courage ever since. A smuggler’s dhow was blown up with its crew in the Arabian Sea by the Indian coast guard. The explanation given included reference to biryani. Blowing up the dhow was better than feeding gourmet food to the suspected smugglers officially described as Pakistani terrorists.

The Manmohan Singh government was in political doldrums when it hanged Kasab, followed quickly by Afzal Guru’s execution. On Feb 3, 2013, Guru’s mercy petition was rejected; he was hanged secretly at Delhi’s Tihar Jail on Feb 9 and buried inside the jail grounds. Guru’s family was not informed before the execution and his dead body was later denied to his family.

In this right-wing mayhem that passes for nationalist virtue, there has emerged hope of a resistance from the liberal-democratic quarters. A group of eminent jurists, MPs, leaders of political parties and individuals from different walks of life submitted a petition to President Mukherjee on Sunday. They requested that Yakub’s mercy plea against his execution be heeded.

Accompanying the petition was an unusually humane extract from an article written in 2007 by the late B. Raman. He headed the Pakistan Desk at RAW at the time and believed Yakub Memon should not be hanged.

The petition, signed by scores of former senior judges and public intellectuals, reaffirms that India is legally and morally bound to reject capital punishment because it is party to the UN covenants against the death sentence. Unless the parliament takes a decision to withdraw from the covenants, the state is legally bound to abide by the UN General Assembly’s 1966 principles.

The second point says Mr Memon’s family was not given due prior notice about the date of his hanging, thus robbing him of a fair chance to seek redress from the highest court.

And finally, the petitioners attached the Raman letter. “I was disturbed to notice that some mitigating circumstances in the case of Yakub Memon and some other members of the family were probably not brought to the notice of the court by the prosecution…,” Raman wrote. He was the point man who enabled Yakub’s surrender in Kathmandu. Raman was not afraid to see Yakub Memon remain alive.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2015

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