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Vajpayee government pushes ahead with POTO 

It is more as part of the larger anti-minority agenda of Sangh Parivar that the BJP is determined to push through the draconian POTO, says Venkat Parsa 

The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) is being pushed by the Vajpayee Government as part of the larger anti-minority agenda of the Sangh Parivar. The POTO cannot be applied against foreigners and India's terrorism problems mainly stem from Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism. In the wake of the banning of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) under POTO, and given the track record of the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), which was notorious for its anti-Minority misuse, the POTO, it is widely perceived, would again be used to target the minorities. 

In fact, March 15, 16, 17 and 18 have become important dates on the calendar of the Sangh Parivar, in implementing its anti-minorities agenda. On March 15, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee deputed a ranking official from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) for the Ram temple's shila daan in Ayodhya, which virtually put an official stamp on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Ayodhya card. On March 16, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is a sibling of the ruling BJP, attacked the Orissa Assembly to highlight the Ayodhya issue. On March 17, the spiritual mentor of the Vajpayee Government, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) adopted an anti-Muslim resolution in Bangalore. On March 18, the Vajpayee government pushed ahead with the controversial POTO. 

In a desperate gambit, the Vajpayee government is pushing ahead with the POTO in Parliament. A Joint Session of Parliament is being convened to ensure its passage. 

BJP Chief Whip Professor V K Malhotra said, "If Rajya Sabha does not approve POTO after its passage in Lok Sabha, the government may have to resort to the Constitutional provision of convening a joint sitting of Parliament for its passage." The BJP took the position that in the prevailing situation it was imperative to have this law enacted by Parliament. 

Originally, the Bill seeking to replace the Ordinance was to have been introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 11, with discussion on December 12 and voting on December 13. In the Rajya Sabha, it was to have been brought forward on December 18. All that was postponed, following the unfortunate terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13. 

Prime Minister Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L K Advani had been harping on a consensus, prior to their decision to push ahead with POTO. The POTO law does not address the concerns expressed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The NHRC wanted to know the justification for a separate anti-terrorism law and how the existing laws were insufficient to deal with the menace. 

In fact, there are preventive detention laws like the National Security Act (NSA), and the Disturbed Areas Act in border areas. Then, to choke the channels of funds flowing in for the terrorists, there is the money-laundering law. Similarly, there were separate laws for checking the narcotics menace, which is also linked to terrorism. Neither an adequate case was made out on the need for a separate anti-terrorist law nor a national debate preceded the move. All of a sudden, under the cover of the September 11 attacks in the United States, amid an atmosphere of fear-psychosis, the way the Vajpayee government is pushing for POTO clearly throws light on its motives. 

The Vajpayee government has not satisfied even the allies of the ruling BJP, not to mention the Opposition. The allies, like the Trinamool Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Khazagam (DMK) and the Janata Dal-United have been pressing for adequate safeguards against misuse and abuse of POTO. The Opposition charge has also remained unanswered - that the anti-terrorism law was more prompted by the September 11 attacks in the United States, rather than by the emergent scenario in the country. A steep rise in the killings in Jammu and Kashmir did not seem to evoke such a response from the Vajpayee government. 

One of the major concerns expressed not only by the Opposition but also by the Allies of the BJP is that the sweeping powers vested in the police could result in misuse. The police in the country is noted for its application of third-degree and illegal methods. No adequate safeguards have been spelt out. Even an anti-terrorist legislation must have a human face.

POTO is meant only for Indians. But in the case of terrorists, it is the foreign elements, the mercenaries, who outnumber the locals. Many more are waiting to cross the border. Now, POTO could hardly be justified as a law that is badly needed to meet the emergent challenge of terrorism. 

The reasoning offered for POTO by Union Home Minister L K Advani is that a legal regime is needed to fight the war against terrorism, which challenges the established law and the State's authority. It does not stand to reason as to how a legal regime would help further the fight against subversives and terrorists. It is not as if a mere enactment of such a law, by itself, would check the rise of terrorism - or so the Vajpayee government would have the nation believe. 

Clearly, the Vajpayee Government has raised its stakes on POTO. It has made it a prestige issue, even by going to the extent of raising the spectre of terrorism looming large over the country, in order to press for the passage of the anti-terrorism law. Such a projection makes for a poor advertisement of the stewardship of the nation by the Vajpayee government. If terrorism has become an all-pervasive phenomenon all over the country, then it makes for a frightful proposition, of a deteriorating national security environment. Keeping the jurisdiction of POTO applicable to all parts of the country is an invitation for misuse. In the past, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) was invoked by states like Gujarat, which had no terrorist violence. It resulted in large-scale misuse. It was reason enough why such a law should not be placed on the statute book. (tehelka)

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