India’s 'No' to 9-11 Legacy

The following article is from Truthout and provides an example of how the war on terror can be used to pursue other agendas. You can see the original article at

India's 'No' to 9/11 Legacy

By J. Sri Raman,


May 29, 2004

Chennai, India - India is all set to free itself from its own legacy of 9/11.

The process, however, is likely to provoke a political counter-offensive from forces here that actually saw a golden opportunity in the ghastly Twin Towers tragedy.

The new ruling coalition in New Delhi and its outside allies have announced their resolve to repeal an avowed anti-terrorist law enacted by the outgoing regime, headed by the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party. Scrapping of the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), 2002, figures prominently in the Common Minimum Program (CMP) adopted by the currently power-sharing United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and its left allies on Thursday. This was perhaps the only item of the CMP to be adopted without any debate.

The POTA was the official New Delhi response to 9/11 and a Washington diktat in its wake. Piloting the draconian law in a joint session of both Houses of Parliament on March 26, 2002, then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani talked of it as a post-9/11 imperative. The POTA, he said, would meet a call made by United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1373, passed on September 28. This resolution said: All states shall ensure that any person who participates in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts is brought to justice. (The POTA followed the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance or POTO promulgated in October 2001.)

Needless to add, the resolution was a faithful reflection of the official US wish and will. The justice it mentioned, though, was a blatant denial of the basic norms of civilized jurisprudence. It was followed by the passage of laws in several countries that targeted civil liberties and democratic rights in the name of tackling terrorism. Then Law Minister Arun Jaitley thundered that India, too, shall have an anti terrorism law and left no doubt that it would be a lawless law.

The POTA was such a law because of its obnoxious provisions. Like the one that put the onus on the accused to prove his or her innocence. Or the one that treated confessions made to the police (obtained, in public perception, often under torture) as acceptable evidence. But not only because of such provisions. It was all the more lawless in being directed particularly against a minority. And it was even more so in the manner of its implementation.

The anti-minority intent behind the law was made amply clear by the anti-Islamic-terror interpretation the BJP rulers put on 9/11 and their insistent claim that the tragedy had made an India-US alliance inevitable. Tying up the POTA with the terrorism of his government's special concern, Advani said: ...state-sponsored cross-border terrorism is a kind of war and not just a law and order problem...this is the first factor for the government to think of an extraordinary law like POTA.

He was alluding to the Kashmir problem, projected as purely an insurgency imported from Pakistan and no more. The POTA, however, was also a declaration of war on India's largest minority. The Muslims may not have been formally declared a fifth column, but they were the usual suspects to the law-enforcers.

The 30 terrorist organizations listed in the POTA included 11 Muslim and four Sikh bodies, but none of the outfits of anti-minority terrorism like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), spearhead of the Gujarat carnage of 2002 that claimed nearly 3,000 Muslim lives. Even more significantly, the POTA has not been invoked against members of the non-minority organizations that do figure in the list.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the armed force of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka, for example, is one of these organizations. When a politician of the southern State of Tamilnadu was arrested under the POTA for supporting the LTTE in public, however, the BJP rulers sprang to his defense. Not out of new-found concern for civil liberties, but because his party was part of the New Delhi coalition then.

They did not press for wielding the POTA against the People's War Group (PWG) in another southern State, Andhra Pradesh, another listed outfit - even after its attempt on the life of the State's chief minister, an ally of theirs. Yet another extremist outfit of the same category, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), got away with a round of organized violence against outsiders meaning Indians from other States living in its north-eastern State.

The insistence of the BJP rulers through all this was on the use of the POTA for its true and intended purpose. Which, clearly, was minority-bashing.

The people have voted against the POTA, and the new rulers have promised its repeal. This, however, is no guarantee that India's statute book will not be sullied by another draconian law of antiterrorist description. This is so not only because the Congress Party cannot be counted upon as an uncompromising defender of civil liberties. It was during its previous term in power that the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (prevention Act, 1987, emulated and excelled by the POTA with its crueler intent, was enacted.

Scarier, however, are the prospects of a re-intensified campaign against Islamic terror by the BJP and its extra-parliamentary, extended family including the VHP.

The prospects are particularly disturbing after the incidents of the past few days in the Muslim-majority State of Jammu and Kashmir. The appointment of Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister was greeted the next day by a bomb blast in the State, claiming several lives. This was followed by another bomb attack on a convoy of the India's Border Security Force in the troubled region, killing at least 25, including members of some soldiers' families.

Kashmir remains the soft underbelly of Indian liberalism, not excluding important sections of the left.

A freelance journalist and a peace activist of India, J. Sri Raman is the author of Flashpoint (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributer to Truthout

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