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Diggy takes aim at Pistol PC - Rights group lobbies against tighter arms rules

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SANJAY K. JHA   |     |   Published 09.08.10, 12:00 AM

New Delhi, Aug. 8: For the first time, Parliament could witness a battle over an issue usually associated with US politics: gun control.

The home ministry’s plan to amend the Arms Act, making gun licences harder to obtain for ordinary citizens, is poised to face strong opposition in the House.

The National Association for Gun Rights in India (Nagri) is mobilising support among MPs with the backing of its chief patron, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh.

Nagri president Rahoul Roy told The Telegraph the MPs would resist the Arms Act (Amendment) Bill, 2010, whenever it was introduced in Parliament.

Sources said Digvijay had promised to take the matter up with the Prime Minister.

Roy said: “We have received support from women MPs and elderly politicians who are the worst victims of criminals in Delhi and elsewhere. They understand the need for guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens for self-protection.”

The clause that has angered Nagri the most is the stress on threat perception.

Nagri says the bill would ensure that only the government and criminals possessed guns. It argues that ordinary citizens cannot prove they face threats to their lives though they are the main victims of criminals in a country that has one of the world’s lowest police-population ratios.

Many people who had lost loved ones in the 26/11 attack had said they would procure gun licences. Roy said: “One can only speculate how things may have turned out on 26/11 in Mumbai if even 20 per cent of the victims had been armed and been able to protect themselves.”

Sources said if the UPA stood firm on the bill, it could lose votes in next year’s Punjab elections. Possessing a gun is virtually a status symbol in parts of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, where these firearms are often bought from the black market and held without a licence.

The craze is so big that four years ago, the Lakhimpur Kheri district administration in Uttar Pradesh had successfully boosted its male sterilisation drive with the incentive of a gun licence before the scheme was felled by controversy.

Digvijay’s stand may intensify his duel with P. Chidambaram, whom he had recently dubbed “intellectually arrogant” while opposing the home minister’s approach to the Maoist threat.

The home ministry has already suffered an embarrassment at the hand of Congress leaders, being forced to drop the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2010, after listing it for introduction in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

The bill would have prevented Indian relatives of those who had migrated to Pakistan at the time of Partition from reclaiming ancestral assets that had been seized as “enemy property”.

The bill was scuttled by Muslim leaders, led by minority affairs minister Salman Khursheed, who apparently had a bitter tiff with Chidambaram. Khursheed took the matter to Manmohan Singh, who asked the home minister to let the ordinance on the subject lapse.

Khursheed was backed by senior UPA Muslim leaders such as Farooq Abdullah, Mohsina Kidwai and K. Rehman Khan. Sultan Ahmed (Trinamul Congress) and E. Ahamed (Muslim League) too met the Prime Minister.

The bill’s critics felt it would hurt many families in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Maharashtra. The worst sufferer would have been Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan, who got the property of his ancestor, the Raja of Mehmoodabad, restored to him through a Supreme Court order. There are over 2,000 such “enemy properties” across India.

Congress leaders took the matter up primarily because of Khan, a party member who had contested an election from Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh on a Congress ticket. His property runs into thousands of crores.


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