‘With Kasab’s execution, I have proved that I am not weak’

In this Idea Exchange organised by Loksatta, the Marathi daily of The Indian Express Group, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde details the timeline of events leading to Kasab’s hanging at Pune’s Yerawada Jail. This session was moderated by Girish Kuber, Executive Editor, Loksatta

Girish Kuber: Why was there such a high level of secrecy in the Ajmal Kasab execution operation and why was he hanged ahead of others sentenced to death?

I was appointed Union Home Minister on August 1. In the last four months, only Kasab’s file was put before me. The Home Ministry received the file around the first week of October. We took stock of the case. The file was sent to the President on October 16. On November 5, the President rejected Kasab’s mercy petition. I returned from the Interpol meeting on November 7 and was informed about a top-secret file from the President. Instructions were given to the home secretary to ensure secrecy. Only the top three or four officials in my department were aware of the development. The next day, November 8, we sent the file to the Maharashtra government through a special messenger. There have been earlier instances of a stay order on the execution a day ahead of the actual date of hanging, therefore the secrecy. Also, there were concerns of an attack on the jail or while transporting him. To avoid these, complete secrecy was maintained.

Girish Kuber: The mercy petitions of Afzal Guru and others are still pending. Rajiv Gandhi’s killers have not yet been hanged. Will these cases be decided soon?

I have explained that the only file I got was Kasab’s. Rashtrapati Bhavan has sent back files of seven cases to me. Legal opinion can be sought on those files. Even if Rajiv Gandhi’s killers have been served the death sentence, the matter is subjudice.

Shekhar Joshi: Files of the others, including Afzal Guru’s, were sent back to you. Does it mean that the earlier President did not take any decision related to them?

It does mean that.

Dinesh Gune: Will you relook all the applications sent to you?

We have received letters demanding reconsideration of capital punishment or the death sentence. Thirteen to 14 jurists, former justices of the Supreme and High Court, have written to the President, asking for capital punishment to be abolished. They have suggested that instead, those convicted could be sentenced to life without parole. Recently, at the international level, 140 nations opposed capital punishment. India and Pakistan are among 28 countries where these punishments continue. India will have to reconsider capital punishment. But we cannot ignore cruelty. Kasab killed 166 people. There is anger among the people about it because of which he was hanged. People’s feelings about Afzal Guru or others are intense. We will have to think about those. We have to balance international pressure and public sentiment.

Prashant Dixit: Was Pakistan informed about Kasab’s execution?

Our MEA had informed Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs a day before he was to be executed. We had asked them to inform Kasab’s parents. They did not respond. After he was hanged, MEA asked Pakistan’s High Commission if they wanted to collect the body, but they refused to accept it. We also sent a fax. Now, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that if his family had demanded the body, they would have made efforts to claim the body. Earlier, Pakistan’s stand had been that he is not their citizen. The new statement clearly shows Pakistan’s role.

Girish Kuber: Institutions such as CAG are being criticised for exceeding their brief. As home minister, are you concerned?

No, I don’t think this is anything to be concerned about. All institutions have crossed their limits. Because of RTI, many officials are scared and don’t work. Now officials don’t show the courage to get work done. RTI has created such problems. At times, an RTI on a particular issue gets blown out of proportion, especially in cases where politicians don’t even have a role. Many a times, issues get publicised and the media later realises that the politician they were trying to nail had nothing to do with it. I have suffered this way in the Adarsh case. It was about land belonging to the Maharashtra government. Just because I signed on a paper, I was implicated. We allot land like this all the time. A society is formed according to rules and we allot the land.

Swanand Oak: When you were appointed Home Minister, you were introduced as a Dalit. What did you think about that?

I accepted the challenge of being the first Dalit chief minister of Maharashtra and won the selection. I was not disappointed when I was declined a second term as chief minister. The idea that Maharashtra cannot have a Dalit chief minister was proved wrong. It was proved that a Dalit chief minister can win a second election for the party. Some people spread propaganda that a Dalit home minister will be weak, but I have proved them wrong. With this recent incident of the execution of Kasab, I have proved that I am not weak.

Madhu Kamble: It is said you were denied the chief minister’s position for the second time because of your closeness to Sharad Pawar. Is this true?

This is not true. Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar are on very good terms.

Girish Kuber: Do you think that in the near future, NCP will pose a big challenge in Maharashtra?

The 2004 election happened under my leadership. At that time, some said that it was a foregone conclusion that Shiv Sena-BJP will form a government. But people think before they vote and the people of Maharashtra preferred a Congress-NCP coalition government.

Prashant Dixit: How does the government view the public support to the Anna Hazare-Kejriwal movement?

The movement mainly got support from the middle class. The middle class was fed up of corruption. These leaders latched onto these emotions. The government should also understand that people face hardships and that they are fed up. The government tabled the Lokpal and the money laundering bills.

Girish Kuber: Do you find time for your hobbies, literature and poetry?

No, I don’t get any time. Now that I have got an opportunity, let us do some good work. Now, I don’t even get sufficient time to read. I work till 11.30 p.m. every day and wake up at 5.30 every morning. Every day, about 100-150 files come to me. So, I get no time for leisure reading.

Madhu Kamble: After winning the elections, you were sidelined and Vilasrao Deshmukh was made the chief minister.

One should accept setbacks with a smiling face. Even after Vilasrao was appointed, I came out smiling. That’s why the media flashed the news that I had been selected as the chief minister. I went to Delhi after the election. There, Sonia Gandhi told me that there were some difficulties in making me the chief minister again. I said, ‘You are my leader and whatever decision you take about me is acceptable to me. The party has given me enough.’

Girish Kuber: You have been power minister at the Centre. How successful were you in improving the power sector?

When I took over the power ministry, the situation was very bad. There wasn’t enough infrastructure to increase the power generation capacity. Six companies began manufacturing power generation equipment. In the beginning, there was a lot of opposition. Within five years, the power generation capacity went up.

Girish Kuber: What is next for you?

I have done enough. I wish to retire now. I don’t want to fight the 2014 election. I don’t wish to go to the Rajya Sabha. The Congress has given me a lot. I am satisfied. I plan to sit in my Solapur bungalow and chat with friends.

Rohan Tillu: There is talk about a film being made on you.

I have not given permission for that film. If the film is about my ideals, I will give permission, not if it is just on my love marriage. I come from a very poor background. I didn’t even have clothes to wear. I had a job where I earned a salary of Rs 10 but I never begged. I never asked my relatives for help. If the film shows all this, I will give my permission.

Prashant Dixit: As Home Minister, when you take a decision on any particular file, do you take it independently?

I take decisions independently. In my office, there is a picture of Sardar Vallabhai Patel on the right and of Gangadhar Tilak on the left. I am not a steely man, I am Sushil Kumar Shinde and I will stay that way. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Yashwantrao Chavan, Chandrashekhar, Mohan Dharia, Sharad Pawar—they have all influenced me.

Sandeep Acharya: Naxalism and illegal immigration are major issues facing the country. As Home Minister, what measures are you taking to tackle them?

These issues have been there since Independence. Even before Independence, we lived with porous borders without any fencing. Now 700 kilometres of the 1,470-km-long border has been fenced. I have been to the border areas. In Leh, you can see the Chinese army from across the lake. A free and open border creates problems. The J&K border is strong. There are a few tunnels which we are keeping a close watch on. On the other side, the Brahmaputra river stretches over a vast area. We have begun putting floodlights there. I went to Assam, where there are four lakh people living in camps. Naxalism started in West Bengal and has now spread to other states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa. We have to take development to these areas. There are no roads and government schemes do not reach them. The local police are scared to team up with CRPF. We have asked for camps and recruitment drives among locals as they know the topography well.

On illegal immigration, there are tribunals now. Only 8,000 people have undergone scrutiny and been identified as illegal immigrants from among the 5-6 lakh people living there. Those who have been identified, have been sent back. The problem is that we have received complaints that they return. We will discuss the issue with Bangladesh.

Vinayak Parab: Are intelligence agencies failing to detect terror and Naxal activities? It has now spread to cities.

Sometimes, the intelligence systems do not match up. It is a cause for worry that the youth are participating in terror and Naxal activities. Officers and staff in intelligence units should be given additional allowances. States have been instructed about this. I’m confident things will change.

Santosh Pradhan: What is the information you have about terror money in stock markets?

Yes, terror outfits are pouring money in stock markets. We have concrete information about it. Other states have also received it. It will not be appropriate to reveal it.

Sachin Rohekar: The Mumbai stock market is a lobby of a few dalals. Most business is transacted through 25 cartels.

There has always been talk about such money in the stock market. Since we had concrete information, I have made strong statements at international fora. Not just Mumbai, stock markets in other cities also have such money and investments.

Vinayak Parab: Cyber crime is a challenge facing the country.

Yes. We are therefore placing emphasis on NATGRID to curb cyber crime.

Translated & transcribed by Swatee Kher and Manasi Phadke