Friday, January 25, 2013

We should celebrate Headley’s 35-year sentence, not complain….

After the 35 year conviction of David Headley, the Pakistani-American terrorist who aided and abetted the Mumbai attacks, the Government of India and the Indian media appear to be disappointed with the “light” sentence awarded by the US judicial system. Actually, the sentence is a result of a plea bargain process, as a part of which Headley avoided the death sentence and extradition to India in return for information on other terrorists. I find it bizarre that we in India are upset at all. We should be happy that the man has been sentenced so fast. How much time would we have taken for the same?

If David Headley had been in India, his conviction would have taken more than ten years; maybe even twenty years. Kasab was different, caught as he was red handed. In Headley’s case where the evidence is not that readily available, the investigations, shoddy as always, would have gone on for ever. Even this is assuming that they would not have become biased because of politics or botched because of corruption. That’s a big assumption in India, considering so many “open and shut” cases drag on for years.

Just look at the recent cases of “Hindu terrorism” or “saffron terrorism” (yes, I am comfortable calling them that). No convictions have been made despite so many years having gone by.

The Malegaon blasts in which 37 people were killed and more than 125 injured took place in Sept 2006 (six and a half years back). No convictions have taken place till date. Not only that, the investigating agencies have moved from one end of the spectrum to the other in first accusing the LeT and SIMI of the crime, and later charging Hindu organizations for it.

The Samjhauta Express blasts in which 68, mostly Pakistani tourists, were killed and dozens injured took place in Feb 2007 (six years back). Again, no convictions have taken place so far. The accused here are clearly terrorists backed by Hindu organizations – including former Indian army officer Prasad Shrikant Purohit, and also Swami Aseemanand. The pace at which the investigations are going, it could take another decade for anything to happen.

The Mecca Masjid bombing in Hyderabad in which 14 people were killed (some in the police firing that followed) took place in May 2007 (again, nearly six years back). Again, nothing has been finalized in terms of who is being prosecuted. Whether it is the HuJI or Swami Aseemanand and other Hindu terrorists, there is no certainty.

In comparison, the US first apprehended David Headley in Chicago in 2009, and then prosecuted him in a little over three years. The quality of investigations was of such high order that the prosecutors were able to get a 35 year “reduced” sentence to the terrorist. The nature of the evidence produced was such that Headley was forced to accept his guilt in a plea bargain in return for information on his fellow compatriot Tahavvur Hussain Rana and others. While Rana was not convicted for the Mumbai attacks, he was of plotting to attack a Danish newspaper for publishing the infamous cartoons of the Prophet. Rana himself was awarded 14 years earlier this month in double quick speed. The US system works. We have no right to complain.

In India, the cases mentioned above have become political in nature. The Congress and the BJP have engaged in slugfests on whether Hindu terrorist groups are involved or not. The BJP even objects to the concept of Hindu terrorism. Why can’t Hindus be terrorists? How can the BJP acquit them even before the trial is completed? The party’s assertion that India is a country of Hindus (complete balderdash) and hence Hindus cannot be terrorists is bizarre. The BJP ratchets up communal passions since that’s the only it believes in. Even in the Samjhauta Express blasts case, it first accused Pakistan, even though Pakistani citizens were killed (In the BJP’s scheme of things, this is a “long game” the Pakistanis are playing; killing their own citizens so that they can accuse India). That aside, the whole issue of Hindu terror is being sidelined by splitting hairs about whether Hindu terror (or saffron terror) is the right phrase to use. The BJP wants us to believe that the phrase conveys the meaning that all Hindus are terrorists. But then does Islamic terror (which the BJP liberally uses) mean that all Muslims are terrorists?

At least in the US, there was no politicization of the issue. We are making much noise about “our system is better than yours”. Why? Because our system does not allow plea bargaining in murder or terror cases?? Super. But what about the delays our system takes? Why have none of the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case been brought to justice even after 20 years? Why are Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar and others not behind bars for life after clear evidence of their inflammatory speeches, moments before the demolition. We demand the death penalty for rapists, but we don’t for cases such as Babri? Even in the Gujarat riots cases, we have taken more than 10 years to start pronouncing some verdicts.

That aside, the Indian judicial system is so flawed that all cases settled by “special courts” or “CBI courts” will run the full course – from the High Court to the Supreme Court to the President’s office in case of a mercy petition. This will take another ten-twenty years. The most bizarre thing of course is the last part…..the President has no time limit for deciding on the mercy petitions.  

We are the last country in the world who can accuse the US of leniency in the Headley case. We should be happy that he was arrested in the US. At least he got convicted so soon and will now spend the rest of his life in jail. If he had been caught in India, he would have lived far longer.

So rather than shedding crocodile tears about how lenient the US has been, and how we would have given him death, we should celebrate that at least one known terrorist has been taken out of the circuit. But because we love to mix politics with everything, we cannot do that. Instead, we will all pretend that we are oh so hurt by the US action. Strangely, and increasingly these days, both the BJP and the Congress will end up taking the same extremist line. Both will attack the US. Both know how the public sentiment can be exploited. The media knows it too. Times Now went so far as to call it “betrayal by the US”. What betrayal? They took action. What would our investigation/judicial have done????

The real truth is that we should celebrate Headley’s 35 years sentence, not complain of him not getting death. By the time he comes out, he wont even be able to think about India. The US system has delivered quick justice. We should applaud them for it….

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