Second hearing

Terror laws require intense political debate,not partisan bickering

Written by The Indian Express | Published: January 13, 2009 4:25 am

May you live in interesting times,” goes the Chinese gibe. But even the deafening understatement in that choicest of abuse fails to describe just how “interesting” the times we live in are. The aftermath of the Mumbai attack has imposed in our public sphere a need for political unanimity and bi-partisanship. And to their credit,our politicians seemed to have picked up that message — passing a slew of anti-terror laws,setting up the National Investigation Agency (NIA),and sacking senior government ministers. But that initial consensus soon descended into bickering. At the recent chief minister’s conference over national security,non-UPA chief ministers fell over each other to attack the NIA — for which they had enacted a legislation in Parliament by voice vote. It is therefore not a moment too soon that the home ministry wants to take a “fresh look” at the GUJCOC Bill,2003.

The GUJCOC Bill — Gujarat’s tough anti-terror legislation — needs presidential assent if it is to pass into law. It is,in text,a copy of Maharashtra’s own MCOCA. Criticisms of the law were legitimate,given the possibility of abuse that such tough laws risk,and the Gujarat government’s dubious past record. But the UPA recommended that the president reject the law. This smacked of politics — doing one thing in friendly Maharashtra and another in neighbouring Gujarat. It also did damage to the Centre’s stated aim to work with the BJP,and provided the opposition the perfect excuse to dig its feet in the sand.

Public anger after Mumbai focused on the government’s lackadaisical response — with many accusing the entire political process of incompetence. Keep the politicians out,placards pleaded. But extraordinary provisions — providing longer detention,admitting custodial confessions,and restructuring the burden of proof — question the basis

of our legal system. They require intense political debate,but not partisan bickering. Our politicians seemed to be confusing the two.

Reports that the home minister wants to give the GUJCOC a fair hearing is a step towards the middle. It is hoped that the opposition responds to these overtures.

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