New Delhi, Jan. 22: Terrorism turned out to be India’s theme song on the first day of the International Parliamentary Conference, organised to mark the golden jubilee of Parliament.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi and Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant all kept the focus on the menace of international terrorism and the threat it posed to democracies.
Joshi set the tone in his welcome address in the central hall of Parliament — the venue of the meet. Attended by parliamentarians from 85 countries, presiding officers of state legislatures and prominent leaders, the conference is Joshi’s brainchild.
“Terrorists are enemies of an open society.... The need of the hour is to help build a consensus to safeguard democracy from forces trying to destroy its foundations,” Joshi said, recalling the attack on Parliament a year ago.
Kalam, in his inaugural address, said terrorism, along with problems like poverty and insurgency, was a threat to global peace and harmony. “Terrorism results from various factors like differences in ideologies, religious fanaticism, painful historical memories, discrimination, enmity between organisations and nations,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the superiority of democracy over other systems of governance had become evident as by the beginning of the last decade of the 20th Century, totalitarian systems had collapsed one by one.
Without mentioning Pakistan, Vajpayee said: “Even rulers in khaki have felt the need to seek some kind of democratic legitimacy.”
Coups, bloody power struggles and military takeovers have come to be seen as anathema to the ethos of the present time, he added.
While he appeared to underplay terrorism, Vajpayee dwelt at length on some of his domestic political agenda. These included questions like should Parliament be allowed to run its full term to ensure stability of governance and policies and whether there should be simultaneous elections to all tiers of legislatures. He also asked parliamentarians to strengthen mutual cooperation to fight terrorism and extremism.
The terrorism theme also found generous reference in Shekhawat’s address. But the most direct elucidation of India’s agenda came through in Pant’s presentation at a special session in the afternoon on the theme of combating terrorism.
Saying Pakistan was the epicentre of international terrorism, Pant said the need of the hour was to defeat these new “enemies of the open society”. Pakistan must be “de-radicalised”, he asserted, and “America should consider tackling the root of the problem and not just its manifestations in Pakistan”. Pakistan has been left out of the list of 138 countries invited to attend the three-day meet.
Among the other prominent figures present were leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi, former Presidents R. Venkatraman and K.R. Narayanan, former Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and I.K. Gujral.