Chennai, June 5: Somnath Chatterjee today said the Prevention of Terrorism Act had nothing to do with curbing terrorism. He said the real intention behind the anti-terrorism law was “not to control terrorism” but to hand “sweeping and unregulated powers” to BJP cohorts and the powers-that-be. These powers could be used against the political opponents of the National Democratic Alliance, the CPM parliamentary party leader alleged.
Chatterjee was speaking at a CPM-organised meeting, Periyar Thidal, here late last evening. Opposition leaders, including Tamil Nadu Congress committee chief S. Balakrishnan, Dalit outfit Puthiya Tamizhagam leader K. Krishnasamy and CPI members attended the meeting.
Chatterjee said while Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had termed terrorism a national problem, they nonetheless had “made it a partisan issue”.
The veteran leader wondered what objective the BJP-led NDA had in mind when enacting the anti-terrorism law, considering law and order is a state subject. The misuse of the law in several states, including BJP-ruled Jharkhand and ADMK-ruled Tamil Nadu, had shown that the legislation had nothing to do with curbing terrorism, he said.
In a unanimous resolution, leaders at the meeting urged the Centre to withdraw the anti-terrorism act “in toto”. The leaders urged the Jayalalithaa government to release all those arrested under the law in the state, including the editor of Tamil magazine Nakkeeran, R.R. Gopal. The resolution was moved by CPM secretariat member, G. Ramakrishnan.
Challenging the Centre and state governments to “show one instance” where invoking the act had helped effectively deal with terrorism, Chatterjee said states had not even been consulted when enacting this “dark, draconian law” which was left to them to implement. He said when in Opposition, Vajpayee had opposed the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act, the forerunner to the present law.
Giving state-wide figures for the implementation of the law in recent months, Chatterjee said the “most blatant misuse” of the anti-terror law had been in Gujarat. He said all the 123 accused in the Godhra carnage had been detained under the anti-terror law, but no arrests had been made under this act during the Gujarat riots that followed.
Referring to MDMK leader, Vaiko, jailed under the anti-terror law in Tamil Nadu, Chatterjee said the former had supported the enactment of the law. But he added that it was good that Vaiko had himself challenged the law in the Supreme Court. Chatterjee said Vaiko had written him a letter from jail, appreciating the CPM’s decision to bring up the MDMK leader’s arrest in Parliament.
Chatterjee said if Vaiko had been arrested for a terrorist act, how could defence minister George Fernandes meet him in Vellore prison. “What sort of terrorism is this'” he asked.
The CPM leader also accused the NDA of doing nothing to get Vaiko released as the BJP was keeping quiet “just for the sake of 15 votes from ADMK MPs in New Delhi”.
Chatterjee said the Tamil Nadu chief minister owed an explanation to the people for the arrest of Vaiko and others under the anti-terror law.
If there was one instance where the law should have been invoked, it was against VHP leader Pravin Togadia. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa should have demanded that Togadia be arrested under the anti-terror law, Chatterjee said.