Over the past decades, in the absence of meaningful bilateral engagement, trials of alleged terrorists have been used by both Pakistan and India to drive home foreign policy stances. These trials serve more as sources of a national catharsis than an exercise in judicial fact-finding, and often end up being miscarriages of justice. The conviction, and impending execution, of Yakub Memon for being a prime accomplice in the deadly 1993 Mumbai blasts is another such instance, and notable Indian jurists, academics, politicians and celebrities have launched a popular campaign asking the government for clemency. The resulting reactions of various political parties reinforce how this conviction is a matter of policy, not legal principle.
The alleged masterminds of the attack remain out of reach of the Indian authorities, and in the absence of any high-profile suspect, Yakub Memon, the brother of Ibrahim Memon, the prime suspect, has been singled out to face punishment. As the campaign in his favour points out, the case against him is based on weak and flimsy evidence. Out of the five confessional testimonies against him, four have been retracted. The time and place of his arrest seems to have been fabricated by the investigative authorities; Memon claims he surrendered himself voluntarily to clear his name and wash away the stigma attached to his family. Furthermore, a letter by B Raman, a former RAW officer involved in the case, also argues that Memon is being unfairly made the scapegoat.
While the emergence of this narrative has given hope to his supporters, the actions of the state are far more troubling. Even as his plea was pending in the Supreme Court a death warrant was issued by local court, showing that his execution was determined even before he had exhausted all legal routes. Crucially, there is a strong – and borderline violent – movement being carried out by Hindu nationalist parties such as the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena, who are constantly pressurizing the government to hang Memon, regardless of the merits of the case. Anyone who raises a voice in support of clemency is also intimidated until he cows under the pressure. Popular actor Salman Khan is the latest victim – BJP workers gathered outside his house and staged a protest until he retracted his statements made on twitter.
The crux of the issue is this: while Indian authorities steam forward with this execution, cases of terrorist attacks against Muslim targets – such as Melagaon, Modassa, Samjhauta Express and Ajmer Sharif – all languish. The authorities do little to prosecute suspects and actively interfere with investigations that do make some progress in the first place. In an atmosphere such as this it is not only highly hypocritical that Indian authorities criticize the Lakhvi trial in Pakistan and make it a major policy issue, it is also highly divisive. Attacks against ‘Hindu’ targets are avenged with a fiery vengeance while attacks against ‘Muslim’ targets are quietly brushed under the rug.