Playing politics will soon become the national sport of India. For the nearer we get to occasional elections the more feverish action does one witness in the political games. What makes these games extraordinary in the Indian context is their continuance with least regard to, or cognisance of national interest—expediency being adhered to. The furore and fiasco, first over TADA and its repeal, then its proposed replacement, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1995 is a case in point.
Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985, was enacted on May 23, 1985 for a two-year period essentially to deal with subversive activities in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. Thereafter it was extended through amendments on the due dates in 1987,1989,1991 and 1993. An extension was due again in 1995 on May 23 but was not granted—not because India has become a haven of peace overnight, but because the different political parties, including the ruling Congress, and their respective State governments with eyes firmly on vote banks have found it politically expedient not only to put it away, but also be seen to be keeping away from it. The Congress dilemma was obvious in the manner in which they tied themselves up in knots over the knotty issue of getting the Bill cleared in the Rajya Sabha.
Two major changes between 1993 and 1995 were the root cause of this predicament. One, it had lost the majority in the Upper House. Its insistence on consensus in the matter was thus nothing more than an effort at making a virtue of necessity. Two, a sudden rise in the interest in and a nation-wide debate on the ‘Draconion Law’, particularly after the bomb blast in Bombay.
Though the law over the years gradually came to be extended, used, and abused to some degree, throughout the country, the din over it during recent years is definitely disproportionate and lopsided. Knowledgeable sources insist that the hand behind the recent noise against the issue is that of the money-bags in custody or under scrutiny in the Bombay bomb blast cases. And they have, in order to save their own skins, given the issue a communal colour.
The myth that TADA is directed against Muslims has gained currency with each passing day. This despite the fact that data on this tell an entirely different tale. As per Home Ministry statistics excerpt, aside for Kashmir and Gujarat, in the remaining 10 States the number of Muslims arrested under TADA as a percentage to the total arrest is only 4.6 per cent.
However, in such games of political one-upmanship what ultimately counts is the public perception. And this being what it is, the two political poles of the BJP and the NF-LF have taken rigid stands—the former raising the bogey of minority appeasement, the latter of atrocities on the minorities.
The Congress is caught between these two warring camps. As the ruling party at the Centre it has to safeguard and preserve national interest, particularly, the nation’s security—and at the same time secure its own minority vote bank. That too not just in competition with the National Front/ Left Front, but also with its own breakaway group of N.D. Tiwari and Arjun Singh, with sizable chunk of its own partymen exerting undue pressure .one way or another.
The Centre sought a solution to the complex problem through the strategic move of being seen repealing TADA, yet retaining it in another garb to cover its national security flank. But it was faulted and caught on the wrong foot.
Armed with acceptance the extension (17 out of 22 States and Union Territories opted for implementing the Act —the three opponents being West Bengal, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh—and eager to let the world know that the extension was on popular demand from the States the Home Ministry decided first to confer with the opposition parties, then the State Chief Ministers. That too on the pretext that the Centre-is only responsible for the formulation and legislation of the Act. The implementation is to be done by the States, hence their views and concurrence became imperative.
To underline its position further the Home Ministry issued a status paper that demolished myths and allegations vis-a-vis TADA and thereby indirectly appealed for its continuance. This prompted its own fireband MP, Mamata Banerjee, to stage a dharna outside Parliament. And raising the suspicions of the other parties particularly of the NF-LF. As a defensive posture they chose not only to close ranks but to adopt a stiff anti-TADA stand.
Wise and wary of the Centre’s moves and with the intention to shift the onus and equally keen to duck and pass the buck, the chief Ministers delivered more shocking punches. Displaying a grand sumer-sault and working in tandem, the NF governments of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Bihar came forward to oppose the Act tooth and nail.
Joining their ranks, surprisingly was Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh, the State with a sizable Muslim electorate, and Haryana coming half-way through to bring up rear. The attempt by the Congress obviously being not to be left behind. Or be seen as anti-Muslim. Also to keep future options for backtracking and face-saving open.
Ambiguous stands and blatant double-talk by many Chief Ministers provided the Central Government with enough room to introduce a new Bill. But the only change the opposition found was in the nomenclature. Hence it came down heavily on it. Since then the game of seeking and granting of concessions by one group or another has gone on unabated. Meanwhile TADA has expired.
The peculiar fact is that the Bill could, have been passed ages back because the Congress and the BJP together have large enough majority. But the ruling party developed cold feet. Its own members were averse to being seen in the company of the saffron party for fear that it would take away any good-will they would gain by the TADA repeal.
The other supporters, the NF-LF, have been unwilling to play ball. Sources aver that negotiations going the right way suddenly broke down when a couple of rather active, aggressive members convinced the team that opposing the Bill and thereby being seen as the champions of the minorities, human rights, etc. would secure far greater electoral benefits than supporting it. Hence they decided to delay. The most difficult to accede being the demand to repeal TADA with retrospective effect. That is letting out those currently in custody.
For one, it is against all tenets of law and justice; secondly, it would mean letting go all the accused of both the Bombay bomb blast case and the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Thus the crucial Bill affecting the overall security environment of the country in the face of growing incidence of terrorism is stuck. Because the NF-LF will not support it, and the Congress will not take BJP’s support for the same reason.
With political gamesmanship being the order of the day who could take national interest into consideration ? Or answer the various unanswered questions ? Particularly regarding the need and desirability of an extraordinary law to deal with extraordinary situations. Also whether one is against a law per se ? Or against its abuse ?
That the government is convinced of the need and desirability is obvious as it has introduced a fresh legislation on two grounds. One, that the existing laws are not adequate. Two, that extraordinary measures are required to meet the extraordinary situation of rising terrorist violence, and even a proxy war from across the border.
The argument that such laws are not in keeping with democratic traditions does not stand scrutiny. One, it is democracies the world over today that face the gravest threat from terrorists. Two, all these countries have one extraordinarily stringent law or another to deal with it. A nation-wide debate for the same is on even in the US. The need for such laws is doubled as they are meant to deal with not any ordinary criminal but the extraordinary one who apart from being far more prosperous and motivated is also better equipped and trained. Not only vis-a-vis sophisticated weaponry but also in the art of bending/breaking normal laws. Any opposition to a law meant to deal with such elements is thus not only incomprehensible but also needs to be condemned.
What must however be opposed and condemned with equal strength is the abuse or misuse of the stringent provisions of such laws. Control for this lies in the hands of the user. Now where TADA or its replacement is concerned, the Centre is merely the party enacting the law. Law and order, being a State subject, its implementation is in the hands of respective State governments.
Moreover, TADA or the proposed replacement law is merely an enabling law. Not a mandatory one. The State governments and their political parties have all the discretionary powers on earth to control how, when, where or why they should use it to put it to the best use. Different State governments have during TADA’s decadelong life amply demonstrated that even the law labelled as draconian can be totally harmless provided abundant caution and restraint is exercised on or before its use. For example, Chimanbhai Patel’s government in Gujarat has the singular honour for the abuse and misuse of TADA, having resorted to its use 18,686 times—often on political consideration. In contrast, Bihar, the so-called law and order problem State, has not felt the need to use the law at all.
Similarly, though during its first term in the Andhra Pradesh government the Telugu Desam felt the need to use the law over 2,000 times, in the first six months of its last term it has used it only in two cases. On both occasions, the accused were suspected of ISI connections.
Similarly, there is the noteworthy example of Punjab where, as a writer put it: “The twin weapons—a Bill (TADA) and a Gill (KPS)—put an end to terrorist-related subversive activities”. Proof enough that where there is a political will there is always a way. And that all this self-righteous talk of preserving human and/or democratic rights, etc. is humbug aimed at achieving set party political aims and shirking of responsibility.
It is time to blow the whistle. Playing with the nation’s security and integrity is certainly not correct.