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“Examine the utility of death sentence as a deterrent”

Madhur Tankha
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Gopalkrishna Gandhi wants a high-level commission set up to discuss death as a form of punishment

Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi on Monday emphasised the need to set up a high-level commission to examine the utility of death sentence as a deterrent and its validity as a punishment as distinct from revenge.

Delivering the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Memorial Lecture-2013 on “Last Words: As Those at Death Door’s Speak” at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library here, Mr. Gandhi said: “I believe only good would result if the President of India were to appoint a high-level commission, comprising former Chief Justices and eminent personages outside the law, to examine, with reference to world trends, the utility of the death sentence as a deterrent and its validity as a punishment as distinct from revenge.”

Noting that last words from the gallows would be a fascinating subject to study, Mr. Gandhi said they would almost betray the shallowness of the death sentence as a form of punishment.

“Death sentence is barbaric”

“I regard the death sentence to be barbaric. But as long as it is in our statute book, it is lawful. What is lawful can, ironically enough, also be barbaric. In earlier times, death sentences meant death by torture...We are not so medieval as to amputate, maim, or blind convicts before executing them anymore.”

Giving instances where victims have asked for clemency, Mr. Gandhi said: “It is notable that Ramdas Gandhi, third son of Mahatma Gandhi, appealed to the Governor General of India to save Godse and Apte from death sentence. And I believe the position of late Rajiv Gandhi in the matter of death sentence on the former Prime Minister’s assassins would be like Ramdas Gandhi’s 1948 intervention, compassionate and advanced. Rather than looking at the death sentence as a means to avenge the Parliament House attack and the 26/11 incident, I think we should look at it as something the absence of which would have given Bhagat Singh to a grateful India till well beyond 1947.”

Speaking about Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mr. Gandhi said he was attached to his bungalow in Bombay and even after becoming the Quaid-e-Azam, it was his desire to return to the city.

Earlier, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations president Karan Singh spoke highly of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

“Maulana was proficient in Arabic, Persian and Urdu. He was a fearless editor. He became naturally the first Education Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet. He set up three academies. He founded the ICCR to deal with countries and our office is called Azad Bhawan.”

Dr. Singh added: “Jinnah’s House is with the ICCR. We have not changed the name. We want a cultural centre for South and South-East Asia so that Pakistanis can avail of the facility there. But the matter is in court.”

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