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Either the hares or the hounds

These are serious issues and the Prime Minister must live up to his and the Home Minister’s assurances that the government will revisit these laws in the next session of the Parliament, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Jan 07, 2009 23:47 IST

The higher than average turnout in the elections to various state assemblies post-Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attacks was, indeed, remarkable. The results, which negated all cynical efforts to seek electoral gains by politicising and communalising terror attacks, reinforced the determination of the Indian people to fight terrorism unitedly. The turnout in the elections in Jammu and Kashmir, braving many feet of snow, showed the resilience of Indian democracy. Though both in Jammu and Kashmir regions, parties that stoked communal and divisive passions made some electoral gains, the overall result reinforced the unity and integrity of India sending a strong rebuff to the separatist forces. The turnout and the result in neighbouring Bangladesh is also heart-warming. The marginalisation of the fundamentalist forces there should assist India in combating terrorist outfits that have often used facilities across our borders to strike.

However salutary these developments may be, it is clear that Pakistan’s intransigence, in refusing to cooperate and act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage, continues to become louder. It has brazenly refused to accept all evidence marshalled by Indian investigations. On the contrary, it is seeking to fabricate counter-evidence against India! All Indian efforts to use the US to put pressure on Pakistan to comply have so far failed to produce any tangible results. This is not unexpected. The US needs Pakistan as an ally in combating the Taliban. It would be naïve to expect the US to increase pressure on Pakistan and thereby compromise its own interests in the region.

Given these realities, earlier in this column (The United State of India, December 4, 2008), it had been proposed that the best course for India would be to invoke the unanimous UN Security Council Resolution 1373 against terrorism. This would have helped us in mounting international pressure against Pakistan. Are there any sub-text compulsions of the Indo-US nuclear deal that are compelling this government to rely solely on the US in our fight against terrorism? It is still not too late in this manner.

The Prime Minister, inaugurating the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security that he convened on January 6, spoke of “multi-dimensional challenges” faced by India and listed “terrorism, Left-wing extremism and insurgency in the North East” as the “most serious threats”. While equipping ourselves to deal with terror attacks, including the pursuit of the perpetrators through laws, is required, what is more important is to take measures that can prevent such attacks in the first place.

The PM admitted, “Clearly, there is need to review the effectiveness of our set-up for the collection of technical signalling and human intelligence. The training and equipment provided to our security forces also requires a careful review. I will admit that a great deal more can, and needs to, be done.” It is precisely these concerns, including our coastal patrol, that were repeatedly articulated in these columns earlier. It is hoped that the Prime Minister’s assurances will lead to some concrete measures including the much-needed modernisation of our police force.

Much of the discussions at the Chief Ministers’ Conference revolved around the recent new laws creating the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and amending the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The objections raised by the Chief Ministers belonging to the BJP/NDA concerning the rights of the states are, indeed, strange as these parties refused to support the Left when it moved concrete amendments in Parliament protecting the rights of the states without diluting the efficacy of the law. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

The first article of the Indian Constitution says, “(i) India, that is Bharat, (note: not Hindustan) shall be a Union of States”. It is not the Republic of India but a Republican Union of Indian states. The federal structure of our Constitution is, thus, fundamental to our existence. With law and order being a state subject, the involvement of state governments in any investigation becomes mandatory. The NIA Act could have been amended, as the Left had suggested, by dividing its scope and making the association of state governments mandatory under certain laws. This, unfortunately, was not accepted.

Neither were amendments designed to uphold civil liberties without compromising the fight against terrorism. Under the new law, a person can be detained for 180 days without a chargesheet being filed. Much is being made of the manner in which the US is fighting terrorism. But under US law no citizen can be detained beyond two days. In Canada, this is one day, five in Russia, six in France, seven in Ireland and 28 in Britain. Are we saying that our police is so incompetent that no chargesheet can be filed before 180 days? The new law also reverses the established principle of jurisprudence by shifting the onus on the accused to prove his innocence.

These are serious issues and the Prime Minister must live up to his and the Home Minister’s assurances that the government will revisit these laws in the next session of the Parliament.

Sitaram Yechury is a Rajya Sabha MP and Member, CPI(M) Politburo

First Published: Jan 07, 2009 23:37 IST