The Yakub Memon case acquired a political dimension on Friday, barely a week before the former chartered accountant is to be hanged for financing and helping to plan the serial blasts in Mumbai which killed 257 people in 1993, unless his last minute appeal is accepted by the Supreme Court.
First, a previously unpublished article by the late B. Raman, a respected counter-terror RAW officer, who had led the operation to bring Memon back to India from Pakistan in 1994, appeared on the news website rediff.com.
In the article written eight years ago, shortly after Memon was sentenced, Mr. Raman said he did not believe that Memon deserved to hang.
If the publication of this brought the doubts already being expressed about the degree of punishment Memon deserved to the fore, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s allegation that Memon had met this fate because of his religion added fuel to the fire. Of course, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj immediately retorted that those who do not respect judiciary can go to Pakistan.
Strong message to terror perpetrators This has put the cat among the pigeons. Privately, a senior Cabinet Minister told The Hindu that since Memon had been indicted by three courts, there was no occasion for a review of the quantum of sentence. Besides, he said a strong message needed to go out to the perpetrators of terror.
But with the publication of Mr. Raman’s article, Mr. Owaisi’s accusation coupled with protests from various human rights organisations, the Centre, wary of a possible political fallout, sought to distance itself from the Yakub Memon case on Friday.
This became clear when Union Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar, asked to respond to Mr. Owaisi’s accusations, said “There cannot be an uglier form of communal politics. Owaisi sees religion in everything.” emphasising, “The decision for execution is taken by the Supreme Court, not government.”
Simultaneously, government sources told The Hindu that the Centre has left it to the Maharashtra government to take a call on the issue, if necessary. It is also learnt that the State’s Principal Secretary (Home) has taken cognisance of Mr. Raman’s article.
The State government is also faced with Memon’s allegations through his fresh petition in the Supreme Court challenging “undue haste” shown to execute him without following due process of law.
The petition said the Mumbai TADA court had issued the death warrant when his curative petition was already pending in the apex court.
“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 and that the prosecution did not suggest to the court that these circumstances should be taken into consideration while deciding on the punishment to be awarded to them,” Mr. Raman wrote in his article, adding, “In their eagerness to obtain the death penalty, the fact that there were mitigating circumstances does not appear to have been highlighted.”
Mr. Raman also wrote that Memon “cooperated with the investigating agencies and assisted them by persuading some other members of the Memon family to flee from the protection of the ISI in Karachi to Dubai and surrender to the Indian authorities….the cooperation of Yakub… constitute, in my view, a strong mitigating circumstance to be taken into consideration while considering whether the death penalty should be implemented.”
While the Centre’s assessment is that Memon’s hanging could increase resentment among Muslims, it does not anticipate any street protests.
It is also concerned that any overture suggesting leniency towards Memon may be exploited by the Opposition to target the NDA government for adopting a “soft” approach towards terrorists, particularly when the 26/11-convict Ajmal Kasab was hanged during the UPA regime.