Tighter thumbscrews

The BJP blames the Jaipur blasts on the scrapping of POTA, and wants tougher anti-terror laws to combat the menace; the UPA wants to create a federal agency to combat terror, probably on the lines of the US Department of Homeland Security; and the CPI – the only major party with a different view on the subject – is against laws like POTA. The BJP, unfortunately is echoing the sentiments of a majority of the population, who see such complex issues through tinted glasses. A couple of incidents like this, and with the UPA continuing with its current policies, might be enough for the BJP to go to the people and ask for their votes on the terrorism plank. We have the Gujarat experience to look back at, with even the Congress adopting a soft-Hindutva plank.

Our prior experiences with draconian laws – be it TADA or POTA – have shown that they are prone to abuse. How can POTA prevent terror attacks? At most, it can only come into play after the incident because there is no way laws can prevent crimes, except in science fiction. Department of Pre-Crime, anyone? Crimes can only be prevented if you have prior intelligence. And if you do have prior intelligence, why do you need POTA? Any law that limits the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country or acts on the basis of presumption of guilt is dangerous. And it will be misused. The plight of MDMK chief Vaiko is a case in point. The Vajpayee government got POTA enacted. And Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha used it to throw Vaiko in jail for more than a year. The MDMK was a member of the NDA, and Vajpayee could do nothing to get Vaiko released till the Supreme Court intervened into the matter. If this is how powerful political leaders can be treated, imagine the plight of the average man on the street. POTA: Lessons Learned From India’s Anti-Terror Act, has more on this draconian legislation.

Terrorism has existed for centuries in various forms. What we now face is probably more in-your-face than previous versions. But that does not mean we should go hide in caves or ask for tougher and tougher laws, because neither help. What will help is old fashioned law enforcement and better investigation techniques. Politicians like enacting laws because its easy. And when it does not work, you can always blame their not being tough enough. In the end, the only way people can be truly safe from terrorism is if they give up all their rights, and law enforcement is given carte blanche to do anything they want without oversight. That will probably end one kind of terrorism, but give rise to a different kind.

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  • Ram  On May 20, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Nice articulation, especially about the lack of preventive powers of POTA kind of legislation. Having said that, POTA does have a strong element of deterrence and I see some value in that. ‘Draconian’ seems to be polemical hyperbole that doesn’t go well with the rest of the balanced article. Plus, semantics apart, ‘draconinan’ abuse wouldn’t in itself discredit the law or its intents.

  • lightonsun  On May 20, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    didnt read the piece…..
    but the contradictions quote by ms.rand made me remember something…..quite funny that many people like the same quote…..
    anyways read through it again…….that itself manifests that contradictions exist……ms.rand at times forgets her REASON….
    caio…..keep writing…..and sorry for bumping in

  • aristotlethegeek  On May 23, 2008 at 1:24 am

    I have serious doubts as to whether POTA-like laws really deter terrorists. A person who doesn’t care if he lives or dies as long as he can take a hundred people down with him is not going to redraw his plans in the light of tough legislation. The only people who stop to think about laws and their effects on them are rational ones. A person planning a white collar crime will think before acting. A person who murders someone in a fit of rage will not.

    Agreed that potential abuse does not mean that a law is bad. But a law that strips a citizen of his rights and reverses the innocent until proven guilty assumption, is. To top it all, if the system that is supposed to oversee the entire process doesn’t work well, abuse is not a distant possibility, but reality.

    Laws like POTA, and it is draconian – harsh, don’t fit well in supposedly free and civil societies. We, and that includes India, US, UK and all those liberal democracies that have decided that tough situations call for tougher anti-liberty laws, could always claim, though, that those adjectives don’t really mean anything. North Korea does call itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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