It was not surprising that in a democratic country like India, opinions were divided on whether Yakub Memon should have been hanged for his complicity and his active participation in the 1993 Mumbai blasts which killed 257 people or whether he should have been allowed to serve life sentence in prison.
Naturally, those who oppose death penalty and want India to follow the example of some hundred countries where capital punishment has been done away with, argued against Yakub's hanging.
However, there were those who believe that any punishment must be in accordance with the crime that the person has committed. If Yakub had been held guilty of being responsible for the death of more than 200 people on March 12, 1993, then he should be made to pay for it.
Many also held the view that though the other masterminds of the blasts, Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim, had not been brought to book, the punishment handed out to Yakub would bring some sort of closure to the victims and their families.
Amidst this debate, Yakub was hanged in the wee hours of the morning of July 30 after he had exhausted all legal options and after the Supreme Court had burnt the midnight oil.
And predictably people’s opinion continued to be divided much after the last rites of the blast convict had been performed. Among those many voices was that of Congress MP from Kerala Shashi Tharoor who stirred a hornet’s nest when he tweeted that he was "saddened" by the news that "our government has hanged a human being. State-sponsored killing diminishes us all by reducing us to murderers too".
Yakub was hanged 22 years after the blasts shocked Mumbai. In those 22 years, the investigating agencies and the courts went into every aspect of the case and heard all possible arguments. So much so that the apex court, in what was unprecedented in this country, worked till 5 am on the day Yakub was to be hanged as his lawyers made a last-ditch attempt to secure a stay on his hanging.
So, to say that Yakub’s hanging was akin to “state-sponsored killing” was by all means off the mark by the Congress MP. Tharoor must realise that Yakub’s death was not an extra-judicial killing and India is not a banana republic and as Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh put it, Memon got many chances to put his views on all forums.
Death penalty is something that is being debated all over the world and to oppose it is another matter. Thus, when Tharoor said that he was “opposed to the principle and practice of the death penalty in our country", he was within his right to do so and is entitled to his point of view. But when he says that such killings “diminish us all by reducing us to murderers too”, his argument is difficult to accept.
Tharoor also raised questions over the efficacy of capital punishment and said that there was “no evidence that death penalty serves as a deterrent, to the contrary in fact. All it does is exact retribution, unworthy of a government.”
He may have a point and he also backed it up with some statistics in a blog, which he later wrote, but that is not enough to do away with capital punishment. If India has to abolish capital punishment then it will have to consider various aspects like threat from terrorism that the country faces and 'deterrence' is just one of the points.
The Kerala MP did add that he was not commenting on the merits of a specific case and said that it was for the Supreme Court to decide. But that was not enough to pacify the government, with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley calling the comments by Tharoor as "irresponsible" and asked Congress president Sonia Gandhi to explain contrarian views taken by her party.
However, the Congress distanced itself from the remarks of Tharoor, saying that it was his personal view and that Yakub’s hanging had given some sort of justice to the 1993 blasts victims and their families.
Given the fact that Tharoor has often been pulled by the Congress leadership for making statements that have either created a storm or have been against the party line, the reaction was not surprising. As for Tharoor, though he is not new to controversies, it would augur well for him if he chooses his words more carefully next time or at least gets the timing right.