Having said that, the Ajmal Kasab case has also been a politically charged affair, and for this, government and opposition must share responsibility. Each day he spent in prison was sought to be projected as the weakness of a terrorist-appeasing government or a slack system. What it cost to keep him in jail was bitterly talked up; “biryani for Kasab” became rhetorical shorthand for the allegedly twisted priorities of the government. The government in turn, visibly equivocated and spoke of queues. In such a context, the timing of the execution could be read as politically expedient for a besieged government poised on the edge of a crucial parliamentary session, and in the midst of an unfolding election in Gujarat. All sides would do well to remember, though, that Kasab was only the most visible part of 26/11, and much harder work remains to be done, diplomatically and legally, to bring to justice those who planned and engineered the Mumbai attacks.
It is unseemly that Wednesday’s denouement should be received with a jingoistic glee, with some, like Gandhian activist Anna Hazare, regretting that Kasab was not given a public hanging. What is a sombre moment of closure, even if partial, for the monstrous attacks of 26/11, after a difficult legal process, should not be converted into an opportunity to chant for blood, or for political point-scoring. The death penalty is a grim responsibility. As long as capital punishment exists in the statute book, the government must follow due procedure with utter sobriety. It must not contribute to, or cede space for, a petty politics to surround these cases.