Wednesday, December 17, 2008

UPA'S UAPA: ATONEMENT ENOUGH FOR FIVE FROZEN YEARS?

The BJP may not have won Delhi in the recent Assembly elections, thanks partly to Mayawati who played the spoiler by taking away the vote that the Congress lost. But a huge 8% drop in vote share of the Congress there, coupled with fact that it has not been able to attract new voters in three other states too, has got the government to act, finally. After years of denials based on utter falsehoods, new Home Minister P Chidambaram has quietly tabled in Parliament a cleverly cloned pota (grandson) of the very POTA that his government had been maligning for years as a draconian anti-terror law that was not needed to fight terror.

For almost five long years, despite terror attack after terror attack, the ruling UPA had been telling an unbelieving and cynical nation that the government had a 'zero tolerance' to terror, without knowing what that meant, and that existing laws on the subject were adequate to deal with scourge. The most brainless argument that was trotted out endlessly by many otherwise intelligent people was that since POTA had not been able to stop terror attacks, there was no need for a tough anti-terror law.

No law can stop acts of terror completely; it is not meant to. It can at best prevent ordinary individuals from being swayed into becoming terrorists out fear of stiff punishment. But it cannot deter those who get blindly motivated to kill people ruthlessly and without remorse. It is mainly meant to assure law abiding citizens that those who do indulge in acts of terror will get punished severely and swiftly. Such punishment, as the Supreme Court had observed in the Afzal Guru case pertaining to the terror attack on Parliament, is necessary to satisfy the "collective conscience" of the society. But, no, for nearly five long years the nation was told that a terror law would be misused and would not stop attacks, even when it was clear that the whole world thought completely differently, and for all the right reasons.

Thanks to 11/26, the government has finally shed its misplaced fear of losing minority votes and overcome pressure from disconnected analysts, most of whom who do not have even the foggiest idea of the enormity of the challenge that India faces from this undeclared ideology-driven war that Pakistan launched on India decades ago. It has not brought back the POTA because that would have implied an unconditional acknowledgment of the fact that the BJP was right all along, but has included virtually all the provisions contained in POTA in the already existing Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The only major, face-saving provision that has been kept out is the admissibility of confession before the police as evidence.

The new UAPA, in fact, goes a step further than the POTA by incorporating new stringent provisions, based on experience. Details of these can be found here. As these provisions suggest, the government has realised that the fight against terror cannot be limited to the visible instruments of execution like Ajmal Kasab but has to taken to the individuals and organisations without whose active assistance and involvement, organised acts of terror cannot be committed.

For once, the BJP has decided to support the government, even though it feels that the provisions are incomplete. With the two principal parties coming on to the same platform, the usual mischief mongers and loud-mouthed midgets strutting obscenely around like indispensable king makers, and kept safe by Black Cat commandos, have fallen silent. That is exactly what would have happened to them had the BJP risen above petty politics of the worst kind and displayed the same sense of responsibility, maturity and bipartisanship when Dr Manmohan Singh was single-handedly fighting the media and entire political establishment, including strong elements within his party, to get the Indo-US Nuclear Deal through. But, at that time, greed got the better of nationalism and the nation saw the spectacle of Jaswant Singh trying to entice Mulayam Singh Yadav into becoming the PM! That is a blot which will forever haunt Lal Krishna Advani.

The government has clearly been rattled by 11/26. The question is whether it has it been rattled by the horrifying spectacle of death that was visible in Mumbai or by the danger of a political disaster due to the zero response that it displayed to meet the challenge for nearly five years.

Had the former been the case, the government would have listened to the voices of professionals and the cries of innocent people, and not waited for Mumbai to happen. But for nearly five years, it did nothing to tell Pakistan and its agents of death and terror that it was determined to lead the nation to victory in this war. For nearly five years, it watched helplessly as a completely incompetent Home Minister and an equally worthless NSA did nothing whatsoever to respond politically of systemically to the gauntlet that was thrown at India repeatedly. For nearly five years, the Congress party thought that bettering its chances of getting into power by garnering the votes of Muslims was more important than making all Indians, including Muslims, feel more secure. At the end of it, the nation and the party have found themselves much weaker than they were earlier.

In reacting belatedly to begin meeting the challenge of terrorism that Pakistan has systematically unleashed, the government has admitted that is guilty of serious acts of omission for nearly five years. Behind all the clever and dishonest words being used to claim credit for the actions being taken post 11/26 lies this very grave admission. Therefore, it is imperative that, starting from the real top, people are made to pay for this willful failure, this callousness that has cost the nation dearly. Unless that is done, India's politicians and the generalist and unaccountable bureaucrats who misguide them, will continue to wantonly inflict injuries on the nation in future too.

This time, they should not be allowed to simply wash their hands off all the blood that has flown and all the lives that have been lost, just because they have now revamped the UAPA and fired the Home Minister. This is no atonement for five frozen years. This time they must be made to pay a fair price for failing the nation when it needed them the most.