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Defeat POTO is the new war cry
By Syed Ubaidur Rahman

New Delhi: POTO is becoming a rallying point for minorities and human rights and civil liberties activists. They are increasingly coming in the open to oppose the implementation of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance that has hastily been promulgated by the BJP government at the centre. Almost all the political parties have shown their dislike for the proposed ordinance. Conferences and seminars to oppose the POTO are increasingly becoming a common feature in the Capital. A similar program on POTO was organized in the capital by the Milli Council that attracted not only the prominent human rights activists and minority leaders but also attracted media that has also been dragged mercilessly in the ordinance. The program organized at Rajinder Bhawan in New Delhi on 15 November was one of the largest and most successful programs organized to discuss POTO and its consequences. Not only it were minority leaders who came strongly against the ordinance but senior judges, lawyers, political leaders, human rights activists, all spoke on the need to defeat any such law that limits the human rights and seemed to clip media freedom.

POTO is being criticized and fiercely resisted by minority leaders and human rights activists as well as media people because it gives a very wide definition of terrorism without making it clear. POTO’s definition of terrorism makes even peaceful political activity like strikes and dharnas look like terrorist actions. The Law Commission had stressed three factors: intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India, or ‘strike terror in the people’. The mode it lists is use of violence such as bombs, firearms etc. And mentions effect as death, destruction of property, disruption of essential supplies etc. The government has added as mode, ‘or by any other means necessary’. That makes it amply clear that the government has tried to give a definition of terrorism that is not confined to the use of violence. This and other things on the same line are alarming people to come and oppose the ordinance.

Renowned journalist and Rajya Sabha member Kuldip Nayar while speaking in the seminar said that what has added his suspicion in this matter is the tone of the government and its ministers and their insistence that if you oppose the ordinance you are a part of terrorism. He said that the government has tried to maintain a sort of secrecy on the issue of POTO and even people like him have been kept in dark. He said that he is a member of Parliament’s standing committee on home, but he did not receive a copy of the new ordinance. Nayar added that it is notwithstanding the fact that the home committee met almost daily. He went on to say that there are certain norms that have to be maintained in a democracy, but this government is breaking every democratic norm and is not fulfilling these.

‘I believe that the government does not intend to fight terrorism by promulgating new ordinance like POTO. There seems to be a different aim in so hastily promulgating a law’ the former bureaucrat went on to say. He added that ‘we were able to fight militancy and anti national activities from 1995 till today. And we have been quite successful in decreasing militancy from what it was in its hey days when TADA was in use. We have been more effective when we were without any such law. Where from the need arose so immediately to have a special ordinance to fight terrorism’.

Political commentator and former MP Surender Mohan questioned the need to have any such law. He said that he fears that the law will be misused not only against Muslims and minorities but also to silence every voice of dissent that begs to differ from government’s stand. ‘The government has been repeatedly saying that when the US can have a special law to combat terrorism, then why not we. But has anyone explained US law that was passed there? It bars arrest of any US national and refuses to keep in custody even foreign national beyond seven days. The US government wanted to have a longer detention period but it was fiercely resisted by their law makers’ he added. He said that if the government seriously intends to fight militancy it should initiate dialogues like we conducted with insurgents in Mizoram and in Nagaland with NSCN and its factions. We have solved militancy in these states by dialogues.

Justice H Suresh said that the law is aimed against Muslims and minorities and wants to kill any voice that goes against the wishes of the present dispensation at the centre. He said that he has seen atrocities that have been perpetrated on the people of minority communities by the police officers and security personnel in the guise of TADA in Mumbai. He added that the scene was humiliatingly horrible. He went on to say that any such law stands to be extensively misused by almost illiterate people who have been given power to enforce it.

Former Union Agriculture minister and senior CPI leader Chaturanan Mishra said that if it is implemented the law will be an attack on the judiciary as a person indicted under POTO has to confess before a superintendent of police and the judge has to accept the confession. He said that he fears that there was a possibility that the law will be misused due to the incompetence of the police force as has happened in the case of TADA. The country will be destroyed if the POTO comes into force, he added.

D Raja another Communist leader said, ‘My party considers this ordinance as draconian and fascist as it would snatch away the basic rights of the people’. He said his party will oppose the proposed ordinance inside as well as outside the Parliament and sought the support of all the democratic parties in the endeavour. He added, ‘all the democratic parties are united in their effort to defeat the proposed bill when it is introduced in the winter session of the Parliament and we will require the support of Congress in our effort. He pointed out that even the constituents of the NDA have raised doubts over POTO and they wanted a discussion on it before it was tabled in the house.

Several other dignitaries including Prakash Ambedkar, KM Khan, M Afzal, Azeez Barni, Praful Bidwai, Maulana Shafi Moonis and several leading journalists and socio-political leaders participated in the seminar.
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