Holding that the 2000 attack on the Red Fort here, in which three soldiers were killed, was a direct attack by foreigners on India's unity, integrity and sovereignty, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence handed to Pakistan national Mohd. Arif alias Ashfaq, the lone remaining accused.
Dismissing Ashfaq's appeal, a Bench of Justices V.S. Sirpurkar and T.S. Thakur said: “It was an attack on Mother India. In our opinion, this was a unique case, where the Red Fort, a place of paramount importance for every Indian heart, was attacked … where three Indian soldiers lost their lives. This is a place with a glorious history, a place of great honour for every Indian, a place with which every Indian is attached emotionally, and a place from where our first Prime Minister delivered his speech on August 15, 1947, the day India broke the shackles of foreign rule and became a free country.”
Writing the judgment, Justice Sirpurkar said: “An attack on a symbol that is so deeply entrenched in the national psyche was, therefore, nothing but an attack on the very essence of the hard-earned freedom and liberty so very dear to the people of this country. An attack on a symbol like the Red Fort was an assault on the nation's will and resolve to preserve its integrity and sovereignty at all costs. It was a challenge not only to the Army battalions stationed inside the monument but the entire nation. It was a challenge to the very fabric of a secular constitutional democracy this country has adopted, and everything that is good and dear to our countrymen.
“It was a blatant, brazen-faced and audacious act aimed to over awe the government of India. It was meant to show that the enemy could with impunity reach and destroy the very vitals of an institution so dear to our fellow countrymen for what it signified for them.”
Ashfaq challenged the death sentence awarded to him by the trial court and confirmed by the Delhi High Court. The prosecution case was that on December 22, 2000, the appellant and a few others started indiscriminate firing, killing three soldiers of 7th Rajputana Rifles. One militant was killed. A total of 11 persons, including Ashfaq, were tried. While Ashfaq was convicted, the others were acquitted by either the trial court or by the High Court.
The Bench said: “This attack rocked the whole nation generally, and the city of Delhi in particular as the Red Fort is very significant in the history which was taken over by the British Army way back in 1857 and was retrieved … on 15.8.1947. This was nothing but a well-planned conspiracy, and the responsibility of this ghastly incident was taken by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. This was undoubtedly a conspiracy, well-planned, along with some other militants, including the deceased accused, Abu Shamal, who was also killed in the exchange of fire with the police.
“It [the Red Fort] is a national symbol that evokes the feelings of nationalism among the countrymen and reminds them of the sacrifices the freedom fighters made for the liberation of this country from foreign rule. No wonder, even after the fall of the fort to the British forces in the First War of Independence in 1857 and the shifting of the seat of power from the Red Fort to Calcutta and later to New Delhi, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, after his historic ‘Tryst with destiny' speech, unfurled the tricolor from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15th August 1947. An attack on a symbol like the Red Fort was an assault on the nation's will and resolve to preserve its integrity and sovereignty at all costs. Therefore, this case becomes the rarest of rare case.”