(Re-posting this piece in the context of the possible release of those convicted of killing Rajiv Gandhi, one of the few Indian politicians I really admired)

There have been extreme reactions to Afzal Guru’s hanging in India. While there is anger and resentment in the Kashmir Valley, many see it as justice finally delivered. Over time Guru has conveyed and symbolized different meanings to different sets of people, despite the judiciary pronouncing him guilty. He is simultaneously seen as a terrorist, innocent, victim of police brutality, instance of gross human rights violation, injustice, pseudo secular politics, a soft Indian state, inept handling of Kashmir and Kashmiris by New Delhi.

Many comments on social networking sites, where one presumes young Indians are most active, derive a pathological Taliban-esque pleasure in the death of Guru. English TV channels, meanwhile, went berserk after the hanging, claiming to speak on behalf of an apparently revenge seeking, blood thirsty Indian people desperately waiting every morning for Guru to die.

The fact remains that Guru knowingly or unknowingly facilitated the 2001 brazen attack on Parliament, which nobody tires of mentioning, is the symbol of Indian Democracy. The big question about Guru’s hanging is the timing?

Why now, when he has been on death row for more than a decade, along with many others, including assassins of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh, the former chief minister of Punjab?

Why is it that the two main political parties, the Congress and BJP, are agreed on Guru’s hanging, when the issue has remained sensitive and divisive for so long? This is when politicians in this country do not even agree that rape is a crime committed by men – that it has nothing to do with vibes, clothes, diet, jeans, short skirts, hour of the day or night, hormones, disco, occasion, location, boyfriend, working or drunk women.

Clearly, there has been sinister intent in the death of Guru, unlike the hanging of Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab due to the clinching evidence caught on CCTV cameras. Guru was no master mind or ideologue like a Hafiz Saeed or Masood Azhar, who roam about in Pakistan like celebrities. He was a pawn, possibly a mercenary caught up and influenced by the wrong people. He tried to lead a normal life, but failed due to the lure of money.

With Indian Muslims gravitating towards supporting regional outfits in electorally crucial states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two national parties Congress and BJP are fighting to win Hindu and middle class votes. The stakes have turned higher and thus politics dirtier with general elections approaching. Simplistically put, the assumption is that Hindu’s do not like pro-minority politics and feel happy when Muslims are put on the back foot.

The merit-driven hard-working, often self-righteous middle class, on the other hand likes to play by the rules, dislikes indecisiveness, procrastination, dirty politics.

A living Guru had been turned by some into another instance of government inaction, an aspect made more glaring due to failure in several other spheres – growth, economic reforms, generating employment, changes in education, checking corruption, Maoist rebellion and importantly talks with Kashmiri separatist groups.

The Congress-led New Delhi government is also alarmed by the emergence of Narendra Modi with his twin agenda of good governance and clinical development that goes down well with the middle classes. Modi does not need to get after the Muslims. The dynamic Modi more than proved his credentials in 2002 by passively overseeing the Gujarat riots.

What better way for the Congress to confuse the electorate by springing Guru into collective consciousness to obliterate a bit of the Modi effect.  Too many emotive issues have been played up in the past to influence and polarize voters – the politics of caste, building the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Mandal and reservations, among others.

These are mere cloaks to cover inadequacies of performance, corruption, governance, positive change and affirmative action. Guru might have deserved to die. The timing of his hanging, however, is a charade to cloak bigger failures and pursue selfish political intents.

(Buy my book An Offbeat Story here, described by a prominent book critic as one of the most humorous and entertaining reality fiction novel by an Indian writer)