New Delhi: As expected, a blame game has begun within the United Progressive Alliance regime respecting Afzal Guru’s hanging. Up for crucifixion by sections of the establishment and the pro-establishment media is Sushil Kumar Shinde, who might, if current trends hold, be dropped from the Union cabinet at an opportune moment, because the execution has not turned the tide in favour of the Manmohan Singh government, enough for the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, to risk early general elections.

The second man to see his “liberal” credentials take a beating is the President, Pranab Mukherjee, who removed the last road blocks to both Guru and Ajmal Kasab’s capital punishments. Apologists for the Manmohan Singh/ Sonia Gandhi establishment have made out Mukherjee as a particularly bloodthirsty head of state, which has compelled Rashtrapati Bhawan to do its own selective leaking to “friendly” journalists. One newspaper has it that Pranab Mukherjee sent back Guru’s case to the Union home ministry for reconsideration, but to no avail.

The bottom-line is that Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi are all equally responsible for the decision to hang Afzal Guru. If Mukherjee was so opposed, he could have resigned. If Manmohan Singh wished Guru to remain alive, Sonia Gandhi wouldn’t have objected for long. And if Sonia Gandhi considered Guru a national treasure, no power on earth could have circumscribed his life. This is the cold truth. Shinde was merely an instrument, not a particularly intelligent one, and even something of a boor, but nevertheless a servitor carrying out orders. Attacking Shinde whilst insulating the other three is dishonest.

When a regime survives on vote-banks, is venal to the core, corrupt, and thoroughly ill-intentioned and malevolent, nothing will go right for it. It is the law of nature. The ill-fated UPA ship is in the vortex of a storm. The rats in the ship are looking to desert. The Afzal Guru card was the last the UPA could play, and it has played it badly. That Afzal Guru would even become a card speaks volumes about the Congress-led UPA regime. It held on to the card as a vote-bank card, and it reflected its own soft attitude towards terrorism. It gambled on playing the card to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party and its rising star, Narendra Modi, and return to power in hastily-ordered polls. The gamble has gone terribly wrong.

Death is serious business, not to be trivialized or celebrated. The state cannot abridge life except in the rarest of rare cases, and only to serve the ends of justice. Justice must not only be done but seen to be done. Afzal Guru should have been properly and in normal course delivered to justice long ago. By delaying his hanging for vote-bank considerations, the UPA regime played havoc with his life, and put his family through avoidable trauma. Then, out of the blue, driven by electoral desperation, the order went out to hang him, and everyone succumbed to this horrible pressure, from Pranab Mukherjee to Manmohan Singh. Since politics is controlled by Sonia Gandhi, who is determined to make her son the next prime minister, all the stops were pulled. If this reads like postmodern Macbeth, don’t be surprised.

Jammu and Kashmir was bound to erupt following the Afzal Guru episode. Even if you had a popular chief minister in the state, not the escapist Omar Abdullah, the situation couldn’t have been very different. The root of the problem lies in Pakistan, at whose behest Guru became party to the 13 December 2001 Parliament attack. Anti-India terrorism must be erased from Pakistan, or it must be dismantled as a state. These have to be the medium- and long-term objectives of the Indian state. Instead, Manmohan Singh appeases Pakistan, and the Congress regime green-lights an execution to return to power.

In death as in life, Afzal Guru became a pawn.