New Delhi: A normally lethargic and bumbling government showed uncommon speed and efficiency in carrying out the execution of the lone Pakistani terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, who was caught alive after the Mumbai massacres of November 26, 2008, carried out by a group of 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) killers.
Within a fortnight of President Pranab Mukherjee's rejection of Kasab's mercy petition, the assassin, brainwashed by his fanatical handlers in Pakistan, including in all probability sections of that country's military establishment, was dead.
Although his last request to meet members of his family was rejected, apparently because it would have taken a long time to arrange for a visit and would attract too much attention, his other, rather curious, plea for tomatoes was accepted and a basket of them was provided.
The swiftness and secrecy with which Kasab was taken from Mumbai's Arthur Road jail to Pune's Yerawada Central Jail Nov 19 was a sign that when the government applies its mind to a task, it is second to none. Even security personnel transporting him in a convoy of six vehicles along the Mumbai-Pune expressway in the dead of the night had little idea of their "cargo".
They were told that they were carrying radioactive material, which was figuratively true. In a sense, for India, a largely peaceful country which has not experienced any foreign invasion since medieval times-if the minor Japanese incursion in the northeast in the mid-1940s is ignored-
Kasab was indeed "radioactive". There was no question, therefore, of giving the slightest indication of the timing or location of his hanging.
As the subsequent description of Kasab as a "hero" by the LeT, and the Pakistani Taliban's resolve to avenge the death of a Muslim on Indian- read kafir or infidel-soil showed an announcement of the imminence of his death might have led to more suicidal missions by psychotic terrorists from Pakistan.
In fact, Islamabad's refusal to acknowledge Kasab's death shows that it is still living in a state of denial about the murderous 26/11 episode, an attitude which cannot but encourage the LeT and the Taliban.
It is fairly obvious that Islamabad's blindness in this respect is allowing the mastermind of the Mumbai carnage, Hafiz Saeed, to roam free and spew hatred against India, and is also partly responsible for the snail's pace at which the case against those few who have been apprehended under international pressure is proceeding in the Pakistani judiciary.
In contrast, the Indian courts went through the entire paraphernalia of examination, cross-examination and appeals in an exemplary fashion although they have never dealt with a criminal case of this nature before with its high emotional content because of the senseless massacre, driven by religious bigotry, in which the accused was involved.
Kasab, it has to be remembered, is the first foreigner to be hanged in India out of the 55 executions that have taken place so far since Independence. The speed with which his plea for clemency was turned down was also unusual considering that the mercy petition of Gurmeet Singh, convicted for killing 13 family members, has been pending for two decades.
The site of Kasab's hanging and burial-the Yerawada Jail-has however set off a controversy since Mahatma Gandhi was incarcerated there during the colonial period. Scores of other freedom fighters have also served the terms of their sentences there, starting with Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
Since critics in India are ever ready to pounce on any issue, big and small, to needle the government, it would have been surprising if Kasab's last resting place was accepted quietly. Considering that the Muslim clergy were reluctant to allocate sanctified ground for burying the nine other terrorists who accompanied Kasab and were gunned down by the security forces, it would not have been easy to find a burial ground for Kasab.
Besides, a search for one, and the process of taking the body there after the news of his death had spread, would have attracted too much public attention. Hence the unmarked grave inside the jail.
Arguably, among the reasons for the timing of the hanging was the approaching dark anniversary of the day of the massacre, which claimed 166 lives. Had no decision been taken even after the judicial pronouncement of a death sentence, the government would have faced the customary accusations of not only being dilatory but even of being "soft" on terrorism.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would have undoubtedly raised a hue and cry over any delay, particularly while campaigning for the Gujarat elections, as it has been doing over another terrorist, Afzal Guru, who has been convicted for his role in the attack on parliament in 2001 and is among the 50 on death row.
Kasab was, of course, only a pawn in the web of terrorism with its epicentre in Pakistan. But, even as the latter tries ineffectually to balance its dalliance with terror with the desire to become a "normal" country, Indian democracy has successfully met the challenge of countering a terrorist onslaught and punishing an insurgent via the legal process.