Two Presidents have rejected the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organized Crime Bill, including APJ Abdul Kalam whom the BJP claims to revere. The Union Home Ministry has cleared the Gujarat Bill, which now awaits President Pranab Mukherjee’s consideration — this at a time when the prime mover of the law, Narendra Modi, is the Prime Minister. Though Atal Behari Vajpayee was not enamored with Modi’s style of running Gujarat, he agreed on the need to forego public accountability and judicial oversight while framing POTA. Modi followed suit with the Gujarat Bill. Anti-terror laws have reflected different ideological approaches on countering terrorism.
One of the Congress-led UPA government’s first acts in 2004 was to repeal POTA. The Congress has also bitterly opposed the Gujarat Bill in the Assembly. On the other hand, the BJP has always made a case for strong laws to tackle terrorism. It justified POTA (post-Parliament House attack) as being the product of circumstances similar to the post-September 2011 Patriot’s Act in the US. The Patriot’s Act was a knee-jerk reaction and Washington later restored the power balance by diluting it. Statistics have proved the security forces blatantly misused POTA and its predecessors, especially TADA, to frame innocents.
The BJP has invested too much in the Gujarat Bill through public posturing to back down, especially when its architect is the Prime Minister. The person who first moved it in the Gujarat Assembly is now the BJP’s national president. The possibility of judicial intervention is one solace against its intervention. The Supreme Court in the past had severely criticized similar laws, especially POTA. But President Pranab Mukherjee will have to first take a call. As a politician, he was adept at consensus building. As the Head of State it will be tougher for him to deploy those skills. If it comes to judicial intervention, perhaps all state laws of a similar nature, such as the ones in Karnataka and Maharashtra, should also be scrutinized. The key to a terror-free environment depends on factors other rather than laws without checks and balances. Such lop-sided laws have always been prone to misuse and heavy-handed application.