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'It's for the people to decide...

48 bomb blasts in six months, 180 religious riots in two months. India is passing through a violent and divisive phase. The man in charge of keeping the peace, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, speaks to Vinod Sharma.

delhi Updated: Oct 18, 2008 20:06 IST
Vinod Sharma

48 bomb blasts in six months, 180 religious riots in two months. India is passing through a violent and divisive phase. The man in charge of keeping the peace, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, speaks to Political Editor Vinod Sharma.

Q) Now that the Union Cabinet has granted your wish list for toning up the police and intelligence systems, what assurances do you have on the government’s preparedness and political resolve to fight terrorism?

A) We have to see that the number of police stations, policemen and officers is increased. They should be better trained to combat terrorist activities. State governments must provide more funds in their Budgets and Plans on the lines done by the Centre. We are allocating funds to States to strengthen their intelligence agencies. The States and forces at the national level are being allowed to recruit retired persons on contract basis to meet the immediate requirement of trained manpower. That has to be followed by State-level plans for combating on ground terrorist activities in the districts. We will examine these plans for providing funds and supply of equipment. Depending on their requirements, States’ will be provided helicopters, armoured vehicles, electronic gadgetry and UAVs for air surveillance.

Q) That’ll be effective in repulsing threats in Naxal-hit areas, J&K and the North-East. What about the invisible terrorists? How do you intend countering them?

A) We have to collect intelligence and analyse it with the modus operandi of terrorists who are not visible on the ground. That will help zero in on groups and individuals. We also have to explain to these elements that terrorism isn’t the answer. In a democracy, there are other effective means to achieve legitimate objectives. We shall have to keep talking to them to explain the futility of using guns and bullets.

Q) But our intelligence agencies lack the intellectual wherewithal for a cerebral combat with highly indoctrinated terrorists. Even the IB does not boast of very many people with a good understanding and scholarship of Islam to disabuse the misguided youth of their tutors’ tendentious religious interpretations…

A) Investigators pick up expertise while on the job. They are also trained at home and abroad. I am emphasizing on a separate research wing for imparting knowledge and information to officers on counter-terror duties. It isn’t enough to merely collect information. There has to be proper analysis of basic information to visualize and pre-empt potential threats. For that, there has to be research on equipment, on systems and on the individual and collective psychology (of perpetrators of violence).

Q) Real time and actionable human intelligence is the key to fighting terror. Such information is scarce for want of a demographic balance within intelligence outfits that have failed thus far to cultivate sources among religious groups and communities.

A) There is no substitute for human intelligence. It is crucial for getting into the mind of individuals and members of society --- as to how they think and what they are likely to do? Anything required to sharpen this aspect of intelligence gathering can be done. It will be done.

Q) You have asked the IB to prepare a ten-year anti-terror perspective plan.

A) Ten years is not sufficient. We have to plan for a longer period.

Q) But it seems the IB failed to meet the deadline.

A) They have their plans. The world is marching very fast, technology wise and system wise. The expanse of crime is increasing with criminals evolving their own new methods. These trends have to be factored into our responses. One-time modernization is not the way forward. We have to keep pace with the changing environment.

Q) Is politics run on Secular-versus-Communal lines a hindrance in fighting terrorism? Are you caught in that crossfire as Home Minister?

A) In a democracy people are free to express their views. We should not be angry or take them amiss. But our job becomes difficult when many people express divergent views.

Q) There is no consensus even within the government on certain issues. National Security Advisor M K Narayanan advocated better policing over banning the Bajrang Dal even before the matter could be discussed at the recent meeting of the National Integration Council.

A) I don’t know what he has said. I’ll not like to comment before going through the entire statement. But this matter was discussed freely at the NIC meeting.

Q) I am told some NIC members referred to the NSA’s remarks.

A) They did. There were some references to his statement.

Q) Do you support a SIMI-like ban on the Bajrang Dal? Are threats posed by these organizations equitable?

A) This is a very, very difficult question to answer. We should not compare one organization with another without studying all the facts. One cannot exactly compare the features of even two human beings, leave alone groups and organizations. Those violating the Constitution have to be convinced to abide by it. If they refuse to be convinced, they have to be controlled through law. They cannot go against the principles laid down in our Constitution.

Q) Secularism…

A) Yes. Secularism does not mean that you are not allowed to profess or adopt any religion. It means you will respect all religions. In India, you are allowed to profess and propagate any religion. But in some countries you allowed to profess but not propagate. There are also countries where you aren’t allowed to talk in terms of religion.

Q) What Bajrang Dal does is against our secular ethos and the tenets of our Constitution.

A) I’m saying you cannot distribute trishuls. You cannot keep on talking against one section of the society or the other. That causes tension that erupts into violence. The cost we pay to control it is very heavy. But it’s another issue whether these things are sufficient by themselves to take action. We should try and persuade them. If persuasions and reasoning fail, it becomes the government’s and the society’s bounden duty to see that it does not happen.

Q) Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik says the Bajrang Dal is a fundamentalist organization. Do you agree?

A) It’s not good for any organization to use strong, poisonous language. That’s not the way to support your religion. On the contrary, it causes tensions between people (of different faiths).

Q) The Cabinet had mandated you to collect information and evidence to help it decide whether or not the Bajrang Dal should be banned.

A) We have information and we are collecting more. We would like to have authentic information. If charge sheets have been filed in some cases, we’d like to collect those. We’d also like to collect (court) judgments. Then there are statements made before TV cameras. We’d like to collect all that as evidence and see what can be done.

Q) So, you don’t rule out firm action against the Bajrang Dal if there is enough evidence?

A) I am not saying what will be done. The matter has to be decided by the Cabinet, Parliament, and the people.

Q) The (ban) option is not being ruled out?

A) Of course, that action cannot be ruled out if the activity of an organization is such that it hurts the country’s interest.

Q) Have you heard from the Patnaik regime on the steps taken to stop re-conversions or conversions of uprooted Kandhamal Christians to Hinduism?

A) I have been talking to the Chief Minister. But I’m very sorry to say that each time we talk, he asks for more forces…. Patnaik asked for four battalions and I gave eleven.

Q) He told me in an interview that a large number of policemen you sent to Orissa were trainees.

A) Where do we get trained policemen? Why did he not raise his own battalions? What prevented him? I withdrew forces withdrew forces from the international borders and training institutes to meet his demand. I can understand his difficulties. But it is not correct to look for excuses.

Q) Has a strong message been sent to him against any repeat of anti-Christian violence?

A) We have sent advisories. We had made it clear that if such incidents continue to happen, it can be treated as a breach of the Constitution. And it has implications, very big implications.

Q) Are you satisfied with his responses?

A) I can understand his difficulties. But I am not satisfied with his responses.

Q) What pro-active role is the Centre playing to put a stop to reconversions?

A) We have given the State more force than it actually requires. They should deploy the forces in a fashion that the violence stops. Their second duty is to end the fear-psychosis. They shall have to see that people go back to their places and live there. We’d like to know what they are doing about it? If they are not in a position to deliver, it will be a very wrong thing to have happened. It cannot be allowed. We have given clear signals. We do not want to disturb the nice Centre-State balance. At the same time we have the duty to see that such incidents do not happen.

Q) Has the signal been understood by the regimes in Orissa and Karnataka?

A) I think they have understood. If they haven’t, God help them.

Q) It means the Centre wouldn’t shirk its responsibility if the anti-Christian violence does not abate?

A) We will definitely do whatever the people expect of us.

Q) But even the Centre can be accused of prevaricating on the proposed changes in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

A) You have to understand the legal position. Once you make a law, it’s applicable across the country. It has implications with regard to human rights. We should not create problems in other areas while trying to cope with problems created by a certain kind of activity. That’s why law making is serious activity. Our position is that the IPC, CrPC and the Evidence Act are there and it is possible to take action under these laws. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is a law that can specially be used for controlling terrorist activities. What was provided in the law that was repealed (read POTA) has been transferred into it to control terrorists and flow of funds besides making electronic evidence admissible in Courts. Now if you do not use those laws and simply keep on saying that give us more stringent law, that’s not a correct thing to do. Parliament was attacked when POTA was there. MCOCA is there in Mumbai where the serial blasts happened. In Delhi too the blasts happened. Law is not a guarantee against terrorism.

Q) Are the proposed changes in the anti-unlawful activities law procedural or substantive?

A) The existing law covers preventive action, arrests, investigations and disposal of cases besides (checking) the flow of funds between individuals, organizations and countries. There are provisions for collecting evidence through electronic surveillance and protection to policemen fighting terrorism. This law supersedes any other law with respect to these aspects. That should be more than sufficient. If somebody says that confessions before the police should be admissible in Courts, that’s asking for too much. If we allow that, many innocent people will suffer. We cannot allow that to happen. If one innocent person suffers, he and his family can turn violent. They can become terrorists.

Q) You are saying that it will fuel, not fight terrorism.

A) That’s right. If laws are not properly implemented, they create a sense of alienation among the people. They feel wronged and find a justification for doing anything they like. We can understand a genuine mistake. But misuse of law cannot be justified.

Q) Are you planning to increase the period of police remand from 15 to 30 days?

A) It is a controversial issue not only in India but other countries too. The House of Commons could pass a similar provision by a very thin margin. But the Courts can permit a longer police remand if found necessary in cases involving trans-national probes.

Q) Do you intend increasing the existing 90 days timeframe to 180 days for filing charge sheets.

A) That (180) days is a little too much. This is what the police are asking for. It can be done if accepted by Parliament. But we must not go from one extreme to another. We will look into it if it is necessary and finds parliamentary approval.

Q) A legislation to combat communalism has also been in cold storage since 2005 when it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. Incidents in Kandhamal and Karnataka could have been handled better had this law been in place.

A) This is a law that will be applicable to Union Territories. What has to be understood is that the Centre cannot--- under the Constitutional scheme--- make this kind of a law for the States where the legislatures have to either adopt the Central law or frame a similar law. This law went to the Standing Committee of Parliament that has since made its report. There have been objections to it from many quarters: jurists, lawyers the civil society. Their demand is for a law that allows central forces in States if the situation isn’t properly handled by the local administration. It is a good idea. But it requires amendment to the State List. It is a lengthy and complicated process. Parliament can amend the Constitution by two-third majority. But the State, Concurrent and Union Lists (of subjects) cannot be amended by Parliament alone. They require ratification by one half of the total State legislatures in the country.

Q) So what’s the roadmap?

A) The State governments have given in writing that the provision would not apply to them. We said okay, at least let us have something else. If people do not want it, we will be helpless. The UPA manifesto had talked about a model law to combat communalism. But I said simply having a model law is not sufficient. Let us get it passed in Parliament and apply it to UTs. It can be treated as a model for States to adopt or have their own version.

Q) Is an agreement possible on it in Parliament?

A) We will be very happy if it’s passed.

Q) What are its salient features?

A) The Centre will have powers to issue directives not only under Article 355 but also under the proposed law. It will be able to ask State governments to pay compensation to victims of communal violence. The people who have suffered will get 20 per cent of the money within 15 days of the incident pending final settlement. Secondly, as per the Supreme Court directive in cases relating to the Gujarat riots, a committee will supervise the police probes. A panel of judges will oversee the work of this committee. The Bill also provides for special courts in other districts or states for speedy and fair trials. Punishment for offences driven by communal considerations will be double in comparison with offences committed in the normal course. Derelict officials will be punished and those doing their duty will enjoy legal protection.

Q) It seems the Centre is doing a fine balancing act by making changes in the anti-terror laws while pushing the legislation against communal violence…

A) Law is nothing but balancing the interests of different sections of society. If you don’t do that, there would be opposition to the law, making its enforcement difficult. That is where lies the skill of the legislator, the administrator.

Q) Until not very long ago, we said with pride that no Indian Muslim was involved with Al Qaida. But suddenly there is this talk about home-ground terrorism. On what body of evidence has this determination been made? One asks this in the light of the Batla House police encounter that has triggered demands for a judicial probe.

A) It will be wrong for me to say anything. The government should not put an interpretation on homegrown terrorism or Indian Mujahideen. It should go by facts that are available. The Batla House case will go to the Courts and they will decide. The matter is sub-judice. Let us not pre-judge even before the police investigation is over.

Q) There have been suggestions about segregating the political and operational management in the Home Ministry on the lines tried during Rajiv Gandhi’s time. Isn’t that segregation already there with the kind of work done by you and the National Security Advisor?

A) The Home Ministry is mainly responsible for Centre-State relations. Its second job is to see that internal security and law and order are maintained through the Centre and the State governments. One also has to understand as to what is meant by national security, internal security, terrorism and simple crimes and offences. Insofar as the Centre is concerned, its forces protect the international border of India. The forces manning the borders are Para-military forces, not military forces. As eighty per cent of forces of the Union are deployed on the borders and the coastline, the rest has to be done by the State police. The Home Ministry is not involved in operations as such. It makes policies for operations: what kind of laws should be there, how a kind of insurgency, terrorism, extremism or violence in the country has to be dealt with? We decide the policy and ask the States to operate on that. In defence matters the entire responsibility is with the Union Government. Of the eight lakh forces with the Centre, six lakh are deployed on the borders. The 14 lakh policemen with the States are responsible for law and order duties. Those who talk in terms of political and operational activities do not understand (the functioning of the Home Ministry).

Q) The internal and national security portfolios were merged under Mr Narayanan (who started as internal security advisor) after he succeeded the late J N Dixit as NSA. As both are full time jobs, isn’t the joint charge a bit unrealistic?

A) It is not correct for me to say anything. But it must be understood that advisor is one thing, policy maker is another thing, policy enforcement is the third thing and working in the field the fourth thing.

Q) Do you sometimes as Home Minister find that you are misunderstood, mistaken or misconstrued? Do feel wronged by your critics?

A) God has been kind to me. People have been kind to me. My friends and well wishers have been kind to me. Mistakes can be made by anybody. I haven’t seen unkindness.

Q) You said your job is to lay down policy and ensure its implementation. You are not in the field to conduct operations. Yet much of the criticism you got was on account of operational failures. Is it that you couldn’t effectively explain the mandate of your ministry?

A) I expected the people to understand. My party understands, my leaders understand. In politics you can’t expect bouquets all the time. Sometimes brickbats also come your way.

Q) That is the way of life.

A) What do I say, what do I do?

Q) What would you say to the charge that Mr Shivraj Patil is a weak Home Minister?

A) I don’t know what is weak and what’s strong. If a gentle person who behaves properly is treated as a weak person, it is for the people to decide. I don’t want to defend myself. The success or failure is not that of one individual. It is of policemen and all us who are working in the Home Ministry. In J&K, in North-Eastern States, Naxal-affected states and in communal violence, the number of incidents has come down from 36000 to 24000. Casualties are down from 11000 to 6000. If that has happened because of my being soft, I will welcome this softness. I will continue with this kind of softness.

Q) That means you aren’t distracted by criticism.

A) I should not be. If I am distracted by unfounded criticism, I will find it very difficult to discharge my duties.

Q) Then you wouldn’t be fit for the job you are holding?

A) The job of a terrorist is to terrify the people, to demoralize and defame the police and members of the government. If we succumb to that, they have succeeded.

Q) The same applies to people who do not understand.

A) Anybody. To me or to the previous Home Ministers or the Home Ministers who will come later on.

Q) Would you say that your predecessor L K Advani has been less than empathetic of the kind of complex task you have?

A) He never said anything personally against me. If he has criticized, he has done so as the leader of a party sitting on the Opposition benches. To that extent, I cannot object to his criticism.

Q) But his party colleagues have been less than charitable.

A) It depends on how you look at things and your understanding of the situation.

Q) But your party colleagues never gave you that feeling?

A) If I say they have done injustice to me, I would be wrong.