Meanwhile, the run of the country’s most eagerly awaited revenge tragedy ended in just over 24 hours. By mid-morning Thursday, Ajmal Kasab had been shouldered off the stage by Parliament, which suffered yet another paralytic stroke on the very first day of the monsoon session. About that time a day earlier, many Indians were yet to learn that Kasab, the poor and not-very-smart kid from Faridkot who had become the face of all that is demonic, was dead and buried in an unmarked grave.
The day Kasab was hanged, NDTV 24x7’s Left, Right and Centre featured PUCL General Secretary Kavita Srivastava, the BJP’s Sheshadri Chari, RPN Singh, minister of state for Home, self-confessed “angry Indian” Harish Salve, former External Affairs secretary KC Singh and Shahzad Chaudhry, formerly of the Pakistani air force. Five Indians, one Pakistani, all talking about the execution. The Pakistani won, simply by being civil and sensible, qualities rarely seen in TV debate.
At some point in the din, KC Singh wondered if we “should be a shouting society or a participatory society.” And a disembodied voice, perhaps Chaudhry’s, said, “I can’t sit through this,” and, “I have to go now.” Parts of the show were indeed hard on the nerves, especially the point at which Salve spoke of “thumping out all those guys” and accused Kasab of being an “illegitimate soldier”. No such term exists in jurisprudence. Perhaps he meant “irregular soldier”?
LRC closed on Wednesday with Nidhi Razdan promising to devote Thursday’s programme to the deeper question of the death penalty, whose abolition India had opposed just a day earlier at the UN. But even TV, legendary for its speed, can’t stay on top of the news in these tumultuous times. On Thursday morning, Zee News ran old footage taken at Kasab’s home. A whitebeard was presented as his father but unless memory fails me, it was actually his grandfather. His parents had been spirited away by the time TV cameras reached his home in 2008.
Soon, CNN-IBN was running a split screen, one half fed by Lok Sabha TV, the other by Rajya Sabha TV, both depicting noisy adjournments. And by the time Razdan’s show was on, other channels had speculated so enthusiastically about the fate of Afzal Guru that it could not be ignored — though the Guru and Kasab cases are utterly dissimilar — and the question of the death penalty was pushed to second place.
Of course, it did keep bobbing up. On Wednesday, everyone’s bugbear was: why was the execution carried out in secret? The right even wanted to know why it wasn’t a public hanging. For the usual reasons, naturally: to prevent interference during the execution and the development of a martyrology afterwards. And anyway, death as spectacle is vulgar. On Thursday, opponents of the death penalty like the journalist Praveen Swami and the activist Vrinda Grover made sensible points while the rest darkly suggested that abolition would trigger a crime wave.
But the issues raised were purely practical. The moral questions involved did not get a moment’s attention. Odd, since hanging is entirely a question of morality, and says a lot about the moral insecurities of societies which feel they need it.