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Feb 11, 2013 at 11:31am IST

Afzal Guru hanging: This is a day for calm and restraint, says RPN Singh

Minister of State for Home Affairs RPN Singh has said that the body of Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack, was hanged and also buried inside Tihar Jail due to security reasons.

Expressing his belief that the execution of Afzal Guru would not affect India's relationship with Pakistan, the Minister of State further said that the government was taking all measures to avoid any untoward incident over the hanging.

Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, RPN Singh said that it was not a day to celebrate or protest, but one to maintain calm exercise restraint in the memories of the bravehearts who had lost their lives during Parliament attack.

Here is the full text of the interview:

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to a special Devil's Advocate with the Minister of State for Home Affairs RPN Singh on the day Afzal Guru was hanged in Delhi. Minister how easy or difficult was the decision to hang Afzal Gutu?

RPN Singh: Well, these are all tough decisions Mr Thapar, but we are committed in our fight against terrorism and whatever punishment, or stringent punishment, or whatever hard decision might be, this government will take.

Karan Thapar: Now, was this decision in fact ratified by the Core Committee?

RPN Singh: Yes, there was a meeting, I was not a part of that committee and people don't come to know what happened in the core committee but I think it must have been discussed in the Core Committee, I can only guess.

Karan Thapar: So your belief is that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were consulted and were aware?

RPN Singh: I can't actually clarify that for you because I was not part of that Core Committee, or if it was taken onboard or not, at this moment.

Karan Thapar: But would you believe that they would have been consulted, that they would have been made aware.

RPN Singh: Well, I really can't say. Mrs Gandhi is in the Core Committee, and if it was raised in the Core Committee, she must definitely have been asked about it.

Karan Thapar: Now there is a certain amount of speculation about the timing of that hanging, it happened less than two weeks before the start of the Budget session of Parliament - is that timing accidental or is it significant or deliberate?

RPN Singh: I think it is just a coincidence because this decision has nothing to do with politics. In fact we should stay away from politics at this moment. And today is a day of calm and restrain and it has nothing to do with politics, but it is our commitment to fight against terror. Be it Afzal Guru, be it Kasab, they both attacked the Indian state, the very idea of India. It was our commitment to fight these people (against most stringent action that we would take against them).

Karan Thapar: I will tell you why I asked you about the timing, because the timing of the decision to hang Kasab earlier last year also happened just days ahead Parliament began. This again has happened 11 days before Parliament began. People ask is this the government suddenly being conscious and deliberate in the timing of after all sensitive things like hanging people, and a decision you knew was going to be controversial and difficult. So I repeat my question - is the timing significant?

RPN Singh: Well my senior minister has already clarified that, in fact the file was sent back to us on February 3, by the President rejecting the mercy plea. And the Home Ministry took a decision on the file on February 4. So automatically when the file came to us rejecting the mercy plea it just happens that it was before Parliament, but it is not something that we wanted to do before Parliament.

Karan Thapar: So the timing is coincidental?

RPN Singh: It is coincidental.

Karan Thapar: I want to raise certain concerns raised in public by Kamini Jaiswal, who I believe was one of Afzal Guru's lawyer. Firstly she asked, was the family informed? She is of the opinion that the family was not aware that the hanging was going to take place - so can you clarify?

RPN Singh: No, I think, the Home Secretary has already clarified, on a television channel that he was speaking to, that the jail authorities sent out letters to the family. The DGP of Jammu and Kashmir was told to inquire if the family has been informed or not. So I think all the legal recourses were taken, and I think the family not being informed is incorrect.

Karan Thapar: The family was informed by letter, you said.

RPN Singh: That is the jail procedure, that it goes through letter. But the ministry had also spoken to the DGP of Jammu and Kashmir to find if they are actually received the letter.

Karan Thapar: And the DGP conform that the intimation has been received?

RPN Singh: Well as far as I know, the family was told and they knew it.

Karan Thapar: Now the body of Afzal Guru was buried in Tihar Jail, similarly last year the body of Kasab was buried in Yerwada jail in Pune - is it deliberate that these body of people who are hanged, are buried in jail and not returned to their respected families?

RPN Singh: Well as you know Kasab's body was refused to be taken by the government of Pakistan, which we had actually offered to them, so he had to be buried in Yerwada jail.

Karan Thapar: And in this case?

RPN Singh: In this case there are certain issues, if you remember what happened with Maqbool Bhat when he also went through the same procedure. It is unfortunate but there are some issues which the government had to take.

Karan Thapar:For people who don't remember Maqbool Bhat it was a hanging which took place in 1984, he was hanged as a result of his alleged involvement in Mhatre murder case in Birmingham. The body in that case became a flashpoint; you wanted to assure that Afzal Gutu body if returned to his family wouldn't become a similar flashpoint.

RPN Singh: Yes.

Karan Thapar:So deliberately the body was not returned to the family?

RPN Singh: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Now one of your MPs, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former member of your government in fact, once upon a time a very serious Cabinet Member, has gone on record to say that this is a sad decision - how do you respond to that comment?

RPN Singh: Well I can only tell Mr Aiyar, the highest constitutional authority and the higher legal authority, both have pronounced the judgment, it is in the constitution that is what we have to follow. These are hard decisions which can't be followed by heart but by pure evidence.

Karan Thapar: Do you regret that someone of the seniority of Mani Shankar Aiyar has criticised the decision?

RPN Singh: Well I would not like to make a comment on Mani Shankar Aiyar, these are his personal views. But the government went through all the legal and constitutional recourse. It was decided by the Supreme Court, and I think every citizen of this country should follow what the constitution and the constitutional authority says.

Karan Thapar: I want to ask you one more question about the manner in which the decision was taken before I come to likely, or possibly, potential consequences of the decision. I know, just like the Kasab hanging, the Afzal Guru hanging was kept completely secret and in a country were usually things leak out through sources or other mediums, this didn't happen in either of the case, or in the Kasab case - are you surprised at your success that keeping something as sensitive and controversial as this under such tight rap?

RPN Singh: Yes I think lot of decisions of the government can be kept secret and in lot of cases it has come about show that they have been kept secret. Both these decisions were highly important in their own way, and it was our right to keep it secret. And I think the government was able to keep it secret, that itself is a good sight.

Karan Thapar:I think you had to make an extra effort to keep it secret or secrecy was maintained?

RPN Singh: I would like to take out time to congratulate all officials, be it Kasab's case, a lot of officials were involved, or in this case.

Karan Thapar: So you are congratulating officials for keeping it completely secret. Let's then come to potential consequences of this hanging. Practically the entire Valley is under curfew, cable TV has been switched off - how apprehensive are you that there could be fairly serious law and order problems in the Valley.

RPN Singh: Well, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir has repeatedly said that it is extremely delicate issue and it should be looking in that kind of way. He has all recourse and precautionary measures, and I think he has appealed to the media and I would also like to appeal to the media to please confirm and re-confirm anything before they get it out.

Karan Thapar: You are very scared that in fact media report in particularly if it is inaccurate, accidentally or deliberately, could create the very tension and communal violence that you want to avoid.

RPN Singh: You know misinformation is something in a situation like this can be very deadly.

Karan Thapar: How long do you propose to keep the Valley under effective curfew?

RPN Singh: I think that question should be answered by the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and I think he will keep it on as long as it is necessary. He is capable of handling any kind of situation.

Karan Thapar: So this curfew as well as the effective blacking out of cable television could continue for days possibly if needed.

RPN Singh: That is something Mr Thapar I would not be able to tell you, that is something that the Chief Minister and the government of the Jammu and Kashmir will be able to answer. But I think this is just a precautionary measure. It is not that we are waiting for something to happen, or we have some information of some untoward incident to happen.

Karan Thapar:Do you have sufficient troops, particularly paramilitary troops in Jammu and Kashmir at the moment because there are reports that several battalions have been moved to Tripura for the elections that are due there. So do you have sufficient manpower over in Jammu and Kashmir?

RPN Singh: I think Jammu and Kashmir is ready for any kind of untoward incident, if it ever happens. So I think the government is prepared, and if there is any kind of situation, we will be ready to deal with it.

Karan Thapar: How prepared is the government in Jammu and Kashmir because by his own admission, Omar Abdullah has said that he had found out what was going to happen at 8 pm last night, 12 hours before the hanging. Now is 12 hours sufficient to prepare for something that could have widespread and have serous potential consequence.

RPN Singh: Well Mr Thapar, I would say all that what is happening in Kashmir is more of a precautionary measure, it is not that we are around some intel that there is some untoward incident that is going to happen, because the people would have come to know about the hanging of Guru only in the morning.

Karan Thapar: It is 4 hours since the hanging as of mid-day today, you are happy with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. You have access to intelligence obviously that I don't, so according to intelligence you are happy with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

RPN Singh: Well we are keeping a close watch and I can once again appeal to the people of country, be it Jammu and Kashmir, calm and restrain is what we need today.

Karan Thapar: You are appealing for calm and restrain, at the same time you are also waiting and watching. I want to quote to you what Farooq Abdullah a long time Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and now a member of your Cabinet in Delhi said to this programme in October 2006 when the Supreme Court conformed the death of Afzal Guru's hanging. He said, "Kashmir will go up in flames, there will be turmoil which India will have to face." You are worried that he may turn out to be right?

RPN Singh: Well, what the situation was in 2006 in Jammu and Kashmir, we have progressed from that situation from 2006 to 2012 and what you are quoting I can only pray to God that it doesn't come true.

Karan Thapar: In other words the law and order situation in the last six years in Jammu and Kashmir has changed substantially to disprove farooq Abdullah's fears. /i>

RPN Singh: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that he said in that same interview and I quote, "This nation will go out in flames because the terrorists will do such things which will destroy the relationship of the Hindu and Muslim here." Are you scared that there will be repel effects not just in Kashmir but across India, and that there may be sparks that start communal problems in UP, or Bihar, elsewhere in the country.

RPN Singh: Every Indian citizen is onboard as far as we take decision on terrorists. And as I said earlier be it Kasab, or be it Afzal Guru who attacked the very Indian state and the idea of India. Every Indian, be it of any religion is onboard as far as stringent action against terrorists is concerned. And I think certain sections of this country would actually not be very happy, that is extremely unfortunate.

Karan Thapar: But in fact nationwide your security forces are on alert.

RPN Singh: I don't think nationwide we should be on alert because that is something that this whole country every Indian wants this government to be strong against terror and this government is committed to take strict action against terrorism.

Karan Thapar: So Farooq Abdullah's fears are somewhat exaggerated.

RPN Singh: He has spoken about Kashmir.

Karan Thapar: He also spoke about the possibility of relations of Hindus and Muslims going up in flames, particularly because terrorists might provoke it.

RPN Singh: This country had attacks by the terrorists and government is always trying to be prepared, and break any kind of attack that takes place against this country and we will be more vigilant.

Karan Thapar: A third thing Farooq Abdullah said that possible danger that might face the judges who had upheld the hanging and the Supreme Court judges who had upheld the hanging as well. He said and I'm quoting, "Those judges will need to be protected like anything. Some crook will come and murder them."

RPN Singh: I think security is provided as we get the intel and if there is any kind of threat to any citizen of this country we provide security.

Karan Thapar: Now there have been voices both by Afzal Guru's lawyers as well as in Kashmir that have questioned, today and more importantly earlier the nature of the trial that Afzal Guru went through. One point in time Farooq Abdullah himself said that Afzal Guru was innocent. Others have said that Afzal Guru didn't get the lawyers he wanted. Others said that he wasn't personally present in Parliament - Are you scared that those sought of questions could be raised today after his hanging?

RPN Singh: Well these questions have been raised for many days, but one thing I would like to say on your show is that we have taken all the legal process that is available to him. People ask us why Kasab's hanging took so long because we gave him all the chances for him to prove that he was innocent. In a country like India where we believe in democracy and where a very strong aspect is the judiciary, even a person like Kasab, where the whole country saw him shooting people, we gave him ample opportunity though court. As in the same way, as far as Afzal Guru goes he had all the opportunity through the judiciary. And the highest judicial body gave him capital punishment.

Karan Thapar: I will tell why I raised this question of people questioning whether Afzal Guru had a proper fit procedure because he is Indian and Kashmiri, Kasab was Pakistani - Does it worry you that voices in Kashmir will raise these concerns and are you prepared to answer them?

RPN Singh: Well, I was on the TV when Kasab was hung, I was on a TV channel on that very night and people from India only were extremely upset with me, that why did you hang Kasab. So I think people will have their independent opinions and she was extremely agitated that we had been extremely brutal in hanging Kasab.

Karan Thapar: This sought of question doesn't worry you and deter you in anyway?

RPN Singh: This is legal... and there is a constitution we have to follow. And today if you see as far as the ordinance has come out we are talking about death sentence, these are the people who are attacking the very state of India, what else do they deserve.

Karan Thapar: Let's widen our discussion on step further. Are you worried that the hanging of Afzal Guru would fuel militancy which in recent years was staidly coming down - Is there now a danger that this may accidently perhaps have lit a spark that could revive militancy, particularly in Valley?

RPN Singh: Well I can only say that we are vigilant and we will have to be more vigilant. And we need to dispel this theory that if somebody from Kashmir is tried and hung on terrorist charges that it could actually lead to militancy. I think it is state also which has to bring forward the things, the charges of any terrorist activity on the state will be dealt with in a very firm and committed manner.

Karan Thapar: What about the possibility of retaliation by LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, who are located across the border. B Raman one of the country's most eminent security analysts has also warned that the government must be prepared for the possibility of cross-border retaliation by these groups.

RPN Singh: That is something that is always hanging like a sword on this country. We have been vigilant and we can only be more vigilant, it is something we have been dealing with and terrorism is not something that is only happening in India. It is happening all over the world, and all of us have to fight it together.

Karan Thapar: Is the Army on the LoC in Kashmir on high alert to prevent LeT, Jaish adventurism?

RPN Singh: Our Army and other paramilitary forces are always on alert to make sure that no such people can cross the border.

Karan Thapar: Will this have an impact on peace process with Pakistan, I know it is not flowing smoothly but none the less it is the intension of External Affairs Minister to get it back on track - will this impact on that?

RPN Singh: I definitely don't think that the hanging of Afzal Guru is going to affect our relationship with Pakistan. The whole world knows that the government is committed to take most stringent action against terrorist, and anyone who attacks the Indian state. And I think be it our neighbors or any other country actually applaud us.

Karan Thapar: I want to put a question to you about the Home Ministry and what looks like a new attitude under Mr Shinde and you, with in the span of six-seven months we had two hangings - are we likely to see more people on death row being hanged?

RPN Singh: We will review the cases and I can tell you if they go through all the legal and constitutions processes then the final buck stops there.

Karan Thapar: Am I right in detecting that there is a new attitude in hanging in the ministry today under Mr Shinde and yourself.

RPN Singh: It is not that we are for the capital punishment or we would like people to be hung.

Karan Thapar: You are being more decisive in taking in those critical decisions, aren't you?

RPN Singh: It is not just the Home Ministry, it is the government which is committed to fight terrorism. And somebody we attacks the state of India, we need the take action promptly.

Karan Thapar: Now one other concern that people have and I'm sure it is one you must share, that there was trample response from some of the potential right wing quarters could fuel disturbance, and could fuel concerns in the country - are you worried that there will be trampled tweets, statement made by the sections of the BJP, Shiv Sena, or possibly Modi, does that concern that as the MoS today?

RPN Singh: Well it would be extremely unfortunate. As I began my interview, I said this is the day not for politics, but a day for calm and restrain. And for true Indian it will be a day of calm and restrain. And I think it would not be in good taste to be in trampled kind of situation. Today our heart should go out to all those nine men and women who died trying to protect the very temple of democracy. I think it is in that light we should take this day.

Karan Thapar: So this is not an occasion for handing out laddoos and celebrating?

RPN Singh: Definitely not, we should pay homage to those nine people who died to save democracy of this country. I think it is that calm and restrain that I'm talking about.

Karan Thapar: There is also a different sought of speculation today, people wonder this decisiveness the Home Ministry is showing and it goes side by side with the decisiveness the government has showed over economic reforms and the manner in which Mr Chidambaram has very decisively, to use that word, reassuring investors both in home and abroad - are we moving towards an early election, is this part of a puzzle falling in place?

RPN Singh: I don't think that Mr Thapar, we seem to take, jump to conclusions with one or two decisions that the government has taken. You see, it is a decisive government which is battered by the opposition that we don't perform. But it is something for the country to see be it on the economic front, or cultural front, be it on the terrorist front. This country is decisive as long as it is in power.

Karan Thapar: Mr RPN Singh thank you very much for this interview.

RPN Singh: Thank you.