Kalam and Memon: Does India hate Muslims?
While one worked to build the country, the other wanted to leave it in ruins.
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Recently, a group of Muslim leaders in Mumbai projected an article written by B Raman, a former officer with the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and asked that his wish be fulfilled by the Indian judiciary. That the Muslim leaders endorsing "Raman's view" may sound like an indication of religious harmony, though the actual case is quite different. They were demanding mercy for Yakub Memon, whom the Supreme Court had identified as the driving force and mastermind behind the Mumbai blasts of 1993. They argue that Raman did not want the judiciary to award Memon the capital punishment.
The Hyderabad MP and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi claims that Memon is being punished because of his religion. While he is absolutely right in saying that other people who have been awarded the capital punishment should also hang, his argument based on Memon's religion is not germane to the scenario. A group of celebrities have also started to argue the toss by pushing for "justice for Memon" through direct requests to the president.
All these moves suggest the development of an alarming trend, of extending support to a person charged with treason. A community plays no role whatsoever in a matter concerning national security. Memon was treated as an anti-social element and a terrorist when the judiciary awarded him the death sentence. It had no connection to his colour, faith, or religion. Nor did it bear any connection with those attributes of the judges who solemnly pronounced the sentence.
Nobody, not even a single person that vouches for Memon, claims he is innocent; they know he committed a series of crimes of the first order; and it is the Supreme Court that has approved the death sentence granted to Memon. He has been in custody for more than two decades, and enjoyed all legal rights to defend his case and prove his innocence. He tried all the possible channels, but failed in each one of them. Where does religion feature in the whole scenario?
Take for instance the case of the deceased President APJ Abdul Kalam. He was a Muslim and the nation mourned his death with one accord, without any considerations of his colour, faith, or religion. If the nation had anything to hold particularly against the Muslims, people would have hesitated to pay homage to him. What we witnessed in the last few hours is perhaps a first in modern times. The unmoderated social media showered phenomenal praise on Kalam and sincerely mourned his loss, and that included people from all parts of the country. Did religion spring up in it even once?
Take this example - the Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy, a Christian, requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu, for permission to bring the mortal remains of Kalam, a Muslim, to Thiruvananthapuram to enable the state to pay tributes. Chandy, or for that matter the whole of India, saw only two things embodied in that short stature of his - knowledge and humility. Religion has not been a consideration.
The stark contrast in Kalam's and Memon's cases is that while one worked to build the country, the other wanted to leave it in ruins. As a secular and federal state, we should show zero tolerance towards terrorism. A charge of criminal conspiracy, safe keeping the explosives, and illegal utilisation of funds is not a joke. And nobody should escape a deserved punishment, by invoking religious sentiments. As Kalam said: "Small people make religion a fighting tool".
If tomorrow the Supreme Court commutes Memon's death sentence, it will knock the stuffing out of my faith in our legal system. Pardoning someone on religious grounds will set a wrong precedent by making nugatory the two decades of investigations, trials, further hearings, and all other efforts and time spent on the case. The judiciary will stand like a clown in the eyes of perspicacious citizens. The religious leaders and celebrities who have now chosen to throw their weight behind Memon's appeal are in effect fighting not only against 257 souls, the many wounded, and their families, but all Indians.
A decision reversal will be historic on several counts. Amongst other things, it will also send out a strong message that India is open to even larger investments. In terrorism, that is.