The government acted swiftly to carry out the execution of Afzal Guru a mere six days after his mercy petition was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee on February 3.

It showed similar swiftness and secrecy in the case of Ajmal Kasab too. This is perhaps explained by its experience of seeing the three death row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case obtain a stay on the execution after news of the rejection of their mercy petition was made public. Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, sentenced to death for plotting to kill Rajiv in May 1991, were informed by a letter dated August 12, 2011 that the President had rejected their mercy petitions. Thereafter, the authorities fixed the date of hanging as September 9 that year. This information gave them vital time to challenge the prolonged delay — 11 years and four months, to be exact — in the disposal of their mercy petitions.

News that the mercy petitions had been rejected caused a political outcry in Tamil Nadu, and the Assembly adopted a resolution on August 30 recommending that their death sentences be commuted to life terms. The High Court admitted their petitions the same day and stayed their execution. Subsequently, the Supreme Court itself decided to hear these petitions and the matter is still pending there.

The sequence of events in Afzal Guru’s case, as given by Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, does not indicate whether he was informed of the President’s order rejecting his mercy plea. “We sent it to the President on January 21, 2013. On February 3, the President sent Guru’s file rejecting the mercy plea to the Home Ministry.

I put my signature on February 4 and sent it for further execution to the department. The due procedure was followed and it was then decided that the hanging will take place on February 9 [on Saturday] at 8 a.m.”