September 17, 2008 10:43:01 am
The UPA Government, under attack for seeming ineffective in the face of terror, for the first time has acknowledged the need for new counter-terrorism initiatives, including strengthening the existing law and introducing fast-track courts.
Before a two-hour emergency Cabinet meeting late tonight that discussed such measures, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking at the conference of Governors at Rashtrapati Bhavan today, had set the tone.
In an apparent rebuttal of the BJP charge that vote bank politics was the reason Congress was soft on terror, Singh said: “The public debate on the issue of terrorism has, unfortunately, tended to get driven by politics, and has centered on certain laws enacted or repealed by Governments of different political persuasions…Our Government has no fixed, inflexible or ideological view in this regard.”
Singh went on to announce: “We are actively considering legislation to further strengthen the substantive anti-terrorism law in line with the global consensus on the fight against terrorism.”
This was echoed in the Cabinet meeting which discussed possible amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to include stronger provisions. There was, however, no detailed discussion on the Moily committee’s recommendation of a tougher POTA-like law although most Ministers were in favour of accepting the recommendation relating to an increase in the remand period.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar sought to know from Home Minister Shivraj Patil why the UPA government was not clearing GUJCOCA, which was modeled on MCOCA. In his defence, Patil claimed GUJCOCA was more “draconian” than POTA.
Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde suggested setting up fast-track courts to deal with terrorism-related cases. Pawar supported the idea. Patil was also said to be “positive” on this suggestion. Expressing concern about the “public perception” in the wake of bomb blasts across the country, Pawar said that the Home Ministry had to be “seen to be working” and inspiring confidence. The Home Ministry “should look like acting, and not reacting,” said another Minister.
National Security Advisor M K Narayanan came in for criticism while he was briefing the Cabinet. “You tell us what is already in newspapers,” said Minority Affairs Minister A R Antulay. Responding to queries from ministers about Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the Indian Mujahideen, the NSA was learnt to have said that the latter appeared to be a radical offshoot of SIMI.
At least two ministers, including Antulay and Ram Vilas Paswan, questioned the government’s decision to appeal against the tribunal’s order lifting the ban on SIMI. They also demanded a ban on the Bajrang Dal. Paswan sought to know how and why the term, “mujahideen,” was bandied around since this tarnished the image of a particular community. Finance Minister P Chidambaram stepped in to say that investigations always point to an individual or a group, not to a community.
Hours before the Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister held discussions on internal security with Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
In his speech to the Governors, Singh admitted there were “vast gaps” in the intelligence network that need to be “overcome.” He highlighted the role of Pakistan-based terrorist groups in the spate of serial bomb blasts across the country but said the involvement of local elements in some cases had added “a new dimension to the terrorist threat”.
On the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the Prime Minister said there had been a “marked improvement” in the security scenario in the state in the last few years but admitted that the controversy relating to the Amarnath land transfer had “offset some of the gains” made. “The situation is still fragile and needs careful handling,” he said.
Referring to the proposal to set up a federal investigating agency, the PM said: “Perhaps, there is no need to set up a new agency, and instead we ought to ensure better coordination and integration among the existing agencies for devising an effective counter-terrorism strategy,” he said.
In an apparent reference to the recent violence against Christians in Orissa and Karnataka, the Prime Minister expressed concern at growing dissent and agitations “over any kind of issues” that are “increasingly finding expression in mindless destruction of public property, attacks on police posts and other government establishments.” He said such incidents had led to growing concerns and perception among the people “about the dilution of the writ of the state.”
“I am constrained, and feel sad, to observe that all this is not in the national interest and will hurt our progress. At a time when the world looks upon India as a rising power, the Indian state cannot be allowed to become so diminished that it cannot even protect public property,” he said.
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