Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party, has raked up fresh controversy when he said yesterday that Yakub Memon is being hanged because he is a follower of Islam.
Memon was convicted by the Supreme Court for financing and planning the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai that left 257 dead and is among India's most damaging terror attacks. His brother Tiger Memon and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, considered the masterminds of the attack, fled India just before the blasts and are believed to be staying in Pakistan.
Owaisi said during a speech in Hyderabad that the assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh have not been hanged because they were not Muslims, and accused the government of religious discrimination.
"The killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh have the backing of political parties in Tamil Nadu and Punjab. Which political party is backing Yakub Memon? Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab has gone to the extent of pardoning Balwant Singh Rajoana," Owaisi said. The sentences of those convicted in the killing of Gandhi and Singh were commuted to life imprisonment.
Owaisi said that if the government is impartial, then it should hang all death row convicts and not just Memon, who is likely to be executed on July 30. In a TV interview, Owaisi said that he was not opposed to the Supreme Court's verdict against Memon, but wanted to highlight the circumstances of the case that culminated in a death warrant.
Other politicians took exception to Owaisi's remarks. "It is a sin to look at this from Hindu-Muslim point of view. The law does not see religion of the culprit," said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Majeed Memon on Friday said Memon's hanging should not be communalised. "We must not see too much of communalism or politics into it. The highest court will apply its mind and do justice," he said.
Senior lawyer and former BJP minister Ram Jethmalani said courts did not decide on the basis of religion. "That's not correct, our courts are impartial in such matters," said Jethmalani.
Yakub Memon has filed a fresh plea with the Supreme Court and with the governor of Maharashtra to spare him the death penalty. Human rights lawyers have demanded that the circumstances of the case do not merit death.
"Yakub Memon is in jail for 20 years. When the death penalties of killers of Rajiv Gandhi or Beant Singh have been converted to life imprisonment then why not Yakub Memon. His death penalty too should be converted into life imprisonment," said senior lawyer Abha Singh.
(With agency inputs)