Within hours of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicating a move to enact a legislation to strengthen the anti-terror legal framework, came the voices of dissent and caution.
At a special meeting of the Union Cabinet that endorsed Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s wishlist, including tighter controls on ammonium nitrate, several central ministers spoke out against another legislation on terrorism that the PM had announced hours earlier.
There was no discussion on appointing a minister for internal security; it wasn’t on the agenda either as was widely speculated. Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, who was the first to demand this meeting, was conspicuous by his absence. An aide said he was traveling to flood-affected areas of Bihar.
Instead, Patil, who’d circulated a detailed note on the internal security situation and existing infrastructure, convinced the Cabinet to clear his wishlist. There was also a briefing by National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.
One of the items on Patil’s list was to cut red tape and move ammonium nitrate — the chemical used to manufacture bombs in nearly half a dozen blasts — into the restricted list under the Explosives Act. “He wanted this chemical to be treated as an explosive,” a minister later said.
“The Cabinet was briefed by Shivraj Patil. He suggested measures. Those have been approved by the Cabinet,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.
The cabinet meeting, chaired by the PM, discussed the anti-terror legislation with stricter provisions to boost security agencies’ fight against terrorism in light of the series of terror attacks in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi.
Minority Affairs Minister AR Antulay, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan cautioned against a stringent law, saying it could single out the minority community and demoralise them. They sought action against right-wing extremist organisations like the Bajrang Dal rather than just focusing on Islamic organisations. Paswan also asked why the needle of suspicion always pointed to people from a particular community.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram, however, emphasised there was no targeting of minorities. A “terrorist is a terrorist”, another minister said. The PM and Mukherjee, sources said, didn’t intervene. A minister said the focus of the meeting turned out to be on how to strengthen the system because terrorists were getting tech-savvy.