NEW DELHI, (IPS) - India's ousted right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has
not been looking kindly at moves by the new Congress party-led government to
undo its policies, warning against plans to repeal anti-terrorist laws introduced
after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
The Common Minimum Program of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA),
which the coalition government released this week, includes making good an election
promise to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
Reacting to the announcement, BJP president Venkaiah Naidu accused the new government
of ignoring what he called the real threat of terrorism in Kashmir and
in several parts of the country.
The BJP alerts the nation to the ominous move by the ruling alliance to
bring in a terrorist-friendly legislative regime, Naidu said in a statement.
To emphasize his point, Naidu drew attention to the May 23 ambush by the Pakistan-based
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant group on a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir that left
30 people dead.
But looking back, the BJP's refusal to repeal or even review the often misused
POTA cost it a valuable political ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)
party in southern Tamil Nadu state.
The party cited the anti-terrorist law, passed in the wake of the September
2001 attacks, as a reason for switching allegiance to the Congress party in
the elections held through April and May.
At the end of the elections, the DMK came away with all the 40 parliament seats
from Tamil Nadu. Not a single seat was won by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra
Kazhagam (AIADMK) party of chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, who was most associated
most with gross misuse of POTA for narrow political ends. In fact, a political
leader whom Jayalalithaa had incarcerated for nearly two years under POTA
Vaiko (one name) is now a cabinet minister in the UPA government.
Election analysts have said that those 40 seats from Tamil Nadu alone could
have decided the outcome of the elections, in which the Congress-led alliance
scored a stunning, surprise victory over the favored BJP and its alliance.
POTA has been under fire not only by the victorious political parties in the
now-ruling UPA, but also by human rights groups including the London-based Amnesty
International. Amnesty has been particularly concerned about the use of POTA
against members of the minority Muslim community in western Gujarat state, where
a bloody pogrom occurred in 2002 under a BJP-led government led by chief minister
"The right of minorities to live in the country as equals was increasingly
undermined by both state and non-state actors despite it being clearly asserted
in the constitution," the London-based watchdog said in its 2002 report.
"Religious minorities, particularly Muslims, were increasingly targeted
for abuse," Amnesty said. "In Gujarat, Muslims were victims of massacres
allegedly masterminded by nationalist groups with the connivance of state agencies."
Amnesty said about 140,000 people fled their homes in the aftermath of the violence
and many were still homeless months after.
"The Gujarat government did not actively fulfill its duty to provide appropriate
relief and rehabilitation to the survivors," the report said. Justice was
hampered by the fact that the police, accused of colluding with the attackers,
were in charge of investigating the riots, according to critics both here and
Independent reports and India's own official human rights watchdog, the National
Human Rights Commission (NHRC), confirmed the same and so did the Supreme
Court this year.
After the May electoral debacle, BJP leaders have admitted that the Gujarat
pogrom may have cost the party greatly in political terms. Modi is currently
facing a serious rebellion within the BJP unit in Gujarat, since a sizeable
faction of it blames him for the BJP's electoral defeat at the national level.
Apart from Muslims in Gujarat, journalists, activists, politicians and socially
and economically marginalized groups such as tribals and women became victims
of POTA and were arrested and subjected to abuse and torture in prisons across
A celebrated example of a POTA case going wrong is that of Syed Abdul Rehman
Geelani, a Delhi University lecturer of Kashmiri origin who was arrested and
charged of complicity in the Dec. 13, 2001 attempt to blow up India's Parliament
using a bomb-laden car.
Geelani was sentenced to death by a POTA court but was acquitted by the Delhi
High Court on Oct. 29 last year.
The damage dealt by legislation such as POTA, however, goes farther than that.
Nandita Haksar, the well-known lawyer and human rights activist who defended
Geelani in court, said the acquittal showed up not only the failure of POTA
but just how weak democratic institutions were becoming in India.