Jobs @ MG
'POTO is intended to polarise communal
passions, not fight terrorism'
|Senior Congress leader
Kapil Sibal tells Venkat Parsa that the government's determination to
fight terrorism seems to have been spurred by the September 11 attacks on
the US, not the decades-long struggle against terrorism in India.
How do you react to the oft-repeated resolve of the Vajpayee government to
go in for hot-pursuit of terrorists across the border?
Why did this government offer unilateral ceasefire in November 2000 when
terrorism was at its peak? It resulted in exposing the people of the
sensitive border state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to greater terrorist
attacks. Far from dealing with the menace of terrorism, the Vajpayee
government has been constantly compromising with it. During the Kargil
War, why was the government assuring the world community that it would not
cross the Line of Control (LoC)? At that time, India could have
legitimately pursued terrorist-breeding grounds and destroyed them? All
this determination to fight terrorism seems to be a post-September 11
phenomenon, and not reflective of a genuine concern to tackle the
terrorism menace, which has been haunting India for such a very long time.
How do you see the recently promulgated POTO?
The Vajpayee government has been bending over backwards in compromising
with terrorism, contrary to its tall claims. What is it that has happened
after September 11 that has suddenly caused the government to sit up? The
reasons for this resolve point to a different direction. The Assembly
elections in Uttar Pradesh are around the corner. Promulgation of POTO is
one of the several acts intended to polarise communities, through which
alone the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to exploit and garner
majority votes. This is nothing but blatant appeasement of the vote-bank
Why do you say so?
Consider these. The large-scale manipulation of a particular community was
the starting point. Then came the defilement of the Taj Mahal. The banning
of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) followed this. Then came the
storming of the disputed site in Ayodhya, following public pronouncement
of threats that the temple will be built anytime after March 12, 2002. Now
comes the POTO. The resolve does not seem to be to fight terrorism. The
focus is on fighting a different battle - the battle of the ballot. This
is borne out by the statement of Union Home Minister L K Advani that the
Vajpayee government is in a win-win situation, no matter what the fate of
POTO ultimately is. This definitely strongly reflects the political
element in the ongoing debate on POTO.
How do you rate the chances of consensus on POTO?
The promulgation of POTO just before Parliament is due to meet on November
19 is yet another example of the government's unilateralism in matters
that require national consensus. There are two broad issues for
consideration. First, whether such a draconian law is necessary to combat
terrorism. Second, if so, then inclusion of specific provisions to combat
terrorism effectively, and ensure safeguards to prevent abuse at the hands
of enforcement and governmental agencies. A national debate and consequent
national consensus should have been evolved on the need for such a law
before rushing about it.
Why do you attribute political motives to the Vajpayee government's talk
of combating terrorism?
A government genuinely concerned with combating terrorism would not allow
its ministers to call others anti-national, merely because they differ
with the government. Those who oppose draconian measures cannot be called
supporters of terrorism. A national debate has been muddied by
irresponsible statements made merely to make the issues emotive, and
thereby derive political mileage. It makes suspect the Vajpayee
government's resolve to fight terrorism.
There are references to strong anti-terrorism laws enacted even by the
Please forgive them for they know not what they say. A comparison between
provisions of POTO and the US Patriot Act, 2001, and the UK Anti-Terrorism
Law, 2000, will demonstrate, per se, not only the flaws of POTO, but the
imprecise deficiencies and other features, which make this law an
instrument of oppression in the hands of establishment.
The Vajpayee government's claim is that POTO has been necessitated by the
need to fight terrorism.
If, indeed, the Vajpayee government was serious about combating terrorism,
it should have proposed such a law much earlier. After all, Prime Minister
Atal Behari Vajpayee, Union Home Minister L K Advani and External Affairs
Minister Jaswant Singh had been trying to convince the international
community prior to September 11 that innocent people in India had been
victims of terrorism. In fact, the sudden spurt in terrorism in Jammu and
Kashmir in 1998 should have spurred the government to contemplate such a
law. Large-scale infiltrations from across the LoC should have brought
home the realisation that the situation should be dealt with firmly.
How do you assess the government's moves to seek extradition of
While asking for extradition of Dawood Ibrahim, why did the Vajpayee
government not ask for the return of those who seek to undermine the very
existence of the nation? Why did enforcement agencies not produce evidence
to ensure that Omar Sheikh is convicted under Terrorist and Disruptive
Activities Act (TADA), despite the fact that the prosecution had in its
possession the dairies, which contained his confession of having committed
acts of terrorism in India? Did this reflect the resolve to deal with
How do you assess the record of the Vajpayee government's resolve to fight
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's assertion of zero-level tolerance to
terrorism rings loud in my ears. But the image of Jaswant Singh escorting
the three terrorists - Maulana Masood Azhar, Zargar and Omar Syed Sheikh -
to Kandahar in exchange for the freedom of the victims hijacking of
IC-814, comes back before my mind's eye. Now, I wonder, why this 100 per
cent tolerance to terrorism? Succumbing to terrorist demands was hardly
evidence of the resoluteness of the Vajpayee government to fight terrorism