SC confirms that Ajmal Qasab must be hanged, but will he simply join the long line of convicts already waiting on death row?

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving member of the 10-man group which attacked several Mumbai landmarks

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving member of the 10-man group which attacked several Mumbai landmarks

It has been a foregone conclusion from the moment he was caught by a heroic policeman. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court also put its seal: Mohammed Ajmal Mohammad Amir Qasab will hang till death.

But will he? Or will the butcher of Mumbai simply join the long list of death row convicts, some of them terrorists who waged a war against the country just like him, such as Mohammad Afzal Guru and Mohd Arif alias Ashfaq?

The apex court upheld the death sentence of the lone surviving Lashkar-e- Tayyeba terrorist and Pakistani national, who unleashed a bloody mayhem in Mumbai for three days along with nine others, killing 166 people and injuring 238, on November 26-28, 2008.

The groundswell of national opinion since that fateful night of 26/11 is that Qasab should be hanged without allowing him any judicial review or leniency. But will a government that has been dragging its feet over the fate of Guru and other convicted terrorists send Qasab to the gallows anytime soon? Yes, said Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

The government will pull all stops to expeditiously process the mercy petition of the 26/11 terrorist, in case he files one.

Gunman Mohammad Ajmal Qasab unleashes terror at CST in Mumbai

Gunman Mohammad Ajmal Qasab unleashes terror at CST in Mumbai

Qasab has the judicial options of filing a review petition - and a subsequent curative petition, though that is unlikely. If the court rejects his petition, he can seek clemency from the executive - either the Maharashtra governor or President Pranab Mukherjee or both.

There is no time-frame to decide a mercy petition, but Shinde said 'minimum time' would be taken to process Qasab's clemency plea, which is now his last option. Government sources said they would try to avoid a situation like that in the case of Babbar Khalsa terrorist Devinder Singh Bhullar, who has challenged before the SC the rejection of his mercy plea by the President on the grounds that there was an inordinate delay of 11 years in deciding his application.

Four other death row convicts --- three of them being Murugan, Santhan and Arivu, convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case - -- have also approached the courts on the same grounds.

A policeman walks with an elderly man after shootings by unidentified assailants at a railway station in Mumbai November 26, 2008

A policeman walks with an elderly man after shootings by unidentified assailants at a railway station in Mumbai November 26, 2008

Yet, the government has been sitting on the mercy petitions of Guru, a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist convicted of conspiracy in the December 2001 attack on Parliament and sentenced to death by the Supreme Court August 4, 2005, and former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh's killer Balwant Singh Rajoana.

Red Fort attack convict Mohd Ashfaq's death penalty was also upheld by the Supreme Court last year.

Guru's petition for clemency is pending before the President for the past six years. A date for the execution of the death sentence was fixed as October 20, 2006.

On October 3, 2006, Afzal's wife filed a mercy petition to the President on her husband's behalf.

First the Delhi government sat on his file for nearly four years till 15 reminders from the home ministry finally forced the lieutenant governor of Delhi, Tejendra Khanna, to send the file back on June 3, 2010 with a recommendation that Afzal's plea may be rejected.

Afzal's mercy petition was finally submitted to the President by the MHA on July 27, 2011 and has been pending a decision since. It is no secret that political considerations come into play in keeping such petitions in abeyance.

Guru's case has become a political hot potato, as the government apparently fears his hanging could antagonise the minorities as well as the sentiments in Kashmir.

The last terrorists to be sent to the gallows were Satwant Singh and Keher Singh, the assassins of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Their mercy pleas were rejected within 70 days in 1988 and they were hanged in Tihar Jail on January 6, 1989. With these cases strengthening the perception of India being a soft state, the question being asked now is how long will it take to execute Qasab.

Sources in the government said taking a decision in his case would be easy considering he is a Pakistani national. 'The decision to reject Qasab's mercy plea will be far simpler than the decision on Afzal Guru for the President…there are no sympathies for Qasab from any quarter,' a government source conceded.

But, Qasab needs to take recourse to the remedies still available - review petition in the SC and mercy plea - as soon as possible as the trial court in Mumbai will now decide his date of hanging.

In case he fails to exercise any of these options before the date fixed for his execution, the state government can go ahead with his hanging. Sources said they expected Qasab to cite grounds such as his young age, an 'unfair' trial and the point that he was brainwashed in Pakistan in his plea that his death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.

But the apex court rejected the same contentions while upholding the decision of the trial court and the Bombay High Court, which had sentenced Qasab to death on five counts and an equal number of life terms for committing multiple crimes of unprecedented enormity, including waging war against India.

A bench comprising Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice C.K. Prasad said this was one of the rarest of rare cases that called for capital punishment, even if death was to be given in 'one in a million' cases.

The court said: 'The saddest and the most disturbing part of the case is that the appellant never showed any remorse for the terrible things he did… in the initial weeks after his arrest he continued to regard himself as a 'watan parast', a patriotic Pakistani who considered himself to be at war with this country, who had no use for an Indian lawyer but needed a Pakistani lawyer to defend him in court.'