Already battling Opposition charges of being soft on terrorism, the Centre on Friday faced a major dilemma after Azad, a member of the ruling Congress, wrote to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention for a sympathetic consideration for Afzal, a resident of Sopore.
The Centre, through the home ministry, initiates the process for any presidential pardon sought for those facing death sentence.
Though the government is yet to respond, its dilemma was evident from the Congress partys reaction, which squarely sought to distance itself from Azad stand.
We neither endorse nor reject Azads stand. It is merely a proposal. There is an established process for presidential pardon, which will be followed in this case too, said party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi.
In spite of the Cogress clinical reaction, Azad was clearly forced to take a contrary stand following the groundswell of support against Afzals execution, which included mainstream parties like the PDP as well as separatist outfits.
Government managers contended that while Azad was compelled by the general mood on the ground in J&K, the Centre would have to take into consideration the national sentiments on the issue.
The government is already on the defensive with the BJP sharply criticising Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs initiative to go for the joint mechanism against terrorism with Pakistan.
The BJP is certain to charge the government of being soft on terror should it take a sympathetic view of the demand from Jammu and Kashmir.