Reject POTO in Toto!

DEFYING COUNTRYWIDE protests, the Vajpayee government is desperate to push POTO through. While people like Advani have started accusing all who oppose or criticise POTO of being supporters of terrorism, another section of BJP leadership is trying a ‘persuasive’ approach with a view to manufacturing a ‘national consensus’ around this draconian legislation. They say, our legal framework remains rather outdated vis-a-vis the constantly modernising threat of terrorism, hence the country needs a new law. Moreover, both Bush and Blair have introduced new legislation to combat terror, should not India follow in the footsteps of these great democracies?

These are devil’s arguments and are downright mischievous. Was TADA borrowed from the ancient code of Mann? What happened to this ‘modern’ legislation? This country has spent a decade under TADA, a decade which only saw the shadow of terror get longer and longer with tens of thousands of people languishing without trial under fabricated charges. If POTO is being questioned and rejected by the broad democratic opinion, it is not on any ethical ground of democratic rights and civil liberties but on the concrete basis of the Indian people’s disastrous experience with TADA. And we are told that more than a thousand people have been detained in America since September 11 under the country’s new anti-terror law, and even their friends and family members are not informed about their whereabouts. This, according to the Sangh Parivar, is the model of democracy we should emulate!

Prior to Ayodhya, it was the Jan Sangh’s opposition to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency that had given the RSS its first major political break at the national level. In an interesting reversal of roles, while the Congress today opposes POTO, the victims of Indira’s Emergency today clamour for more draconian legislation than the infamous DIR and MISA of the Indira era. But it is futile merely to oppose POTO in the name of adequacy of existing (black) laws. This would mean conceding more than half the grounds to fascists who are already (mis)using all the existing black laws to the hilt and are clamouring for more draconian ones. The same premise would tomorrow legitimise POTO in the face some other more undemocratic measure.

While some NDA partners are voicing certain reservations, demanding some safeguards, several non-NDA state governments who are themselves presiding over similar sweeping legislation, have reduced their ‘opposition’ to POTO to merely a question of jurisdiction of central and state legislation and to a rather notional distinction between terrorism and organised crime. Oddly enough, the Left Front government of West Bengal, which has shelved its plans for a POTO-like ordinance called POCO only to await a proper legislative opportunity in the Assembly, belongs to this latter category of critics.

Democracy cannot be defended with such muted and muffled voices of dissent. The opposition to POTO has to be total and resolute. Vajpayee Government has rejected any dilution of its provisions. They have even hinted at convening a joint session of Parliament to muster adequate numbers necessary to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The saffron fascists are out make a political point through this by once again trying for a political polarisation by vilifying minorities. Hence, “Reject POTO in Toto” can be the only acceptable slogan of resistance.