Acrimony marks debate as UPA seeks to pass anti-terror laws (Roundup)December 17th, 2008 - 8:00 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Dec 17 (IANS) The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Wednesday appealed to all political parties to unanimously pass the two anti-terror bills introduced in parliament in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack even as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused it of being soft on terror.In a debate marked with rancour and parties’ efforts to score political brownie points, the BJP accused the ruling coalition of having been “soft on terror” and said only the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks spurred it into action.
The government was pressing for the speedy passage of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Bill and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill.
But attendance in the Lok Sabha was strangely sparse considering the gravity of the debate and the import of the bills the government seeks to pass in this short session.
“I cannot express happiness but I express satisfaction today. You have today admitted that the government was wrong for 10 years and will rectify mistakes. You have woken up from Kumbhakarna’s sleep. I want that you admit that you were wrong,” said Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani of the BJP.
“You attacked us (BJP) as if we had committed a crime when we ushered in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA),” he said, referring to the amendments that the government has proposed in the UAPA which many analysts see as a watered down version of the POTA.
The POTA was enacted by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in March 2002 but was repealed by the UPA government following criticism of its “draconian” provisions and misuse.
While pledging support to the government for the passage of the two crucial bills, Advani wanted to send across the message that the government used different yardsticks to gauge terror.
“The law to fight terrorism is a law against terror. I hope you will not claim that the earlier law was communal while this one is secular. Keep these glasses aside and see (the anti-terror law) independently to combat terror,” exhorted Advani.
“You have harmed the country by seeing the law through the prism of minority and majority.”
The bill to amend the UAPA has stringent provisions, including a detention period of 180 days, instead of the present 90 days, and denial of bail altogether to a foreigner accused of acts of terrorism in India.
The amendments also provide for freezing, seizing and attaching funds and other financial assets or economic resources held by individuals or entities engaged in or suspected to be engaged in terrorism.
“We have woken up because not India but the whole world thinks that we are soft on terror and Mumbai is what made us act.”
Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal slammed the opposition leader for his comments that the Mumbai terrorist attack had shown India as a weak nation to the world.
“He (Advani) wants to send a message that we cannot protect our people and that India is weak. Politics can be done some other day. I wanted to hear him (Advani) speak not on political things and accept and pass the bills but he didn’t live up to my expectations.”
“There was a plan during the NDA regime to introduce a federal agency but the government could not do so during the six years of its tenure,” he said.
“But we have done it in just two weeks,” he added.
Upping the ante further, Sibal asked Advani to apologise to the nation for the 1999 Kandahar hijacking, when the NDA government released three terrorists, and for the 2001 parliament attack by terrorists.
“I want to remind the house about the plane that was taken from Amritsar (Punjab) to Kandahar (Afghanistan),” he said.
Militants had hijacked an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar and taken all passengers hostage. Acceding to the militants’ demand, then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh escorted three terrorists, released from Indian jails, to the Afghanistan town in exchange for passengers aoard the hijacked plane.
Sibal added: “Maulana Masood Azhar after his release formed Jaish-e-Mohammed, which attacked parliament. So parliament was attacked because you (Advani) released him,” he said referring to the terrorist attack on the parliament complex Dec 13, 2001.
“We have never seen such an incident earlier - that an important minister of the country was escorting three terrorists Maulana Masood Azhar, Omar Sayeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar.”
“You (Advani) should apologise to the house as you were the home minister,” Sibal added in a reference to the attack on parliament that India blamed on Pakistan.
Sibal also said the anti-terror bills that the government has introduced have provisions more stringent than those of the US Patriot Act and Britain’s Terror Act of 2006.
“India’s laws are more tough than anti-terror laws anywhere in the world,” he added.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) member Basudeb Acharia wanted both the bills to be referred to the standing committee that would allow leaders to scrutinise the new provisions.
“Initially, we were not in favour of a central investigating agency. But from the kind of terror attacks the country is facing today it is clear that it cannot be handled by state governments. So we support such an agency,” he said.