Monday, 30th October 2017

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An undisputed majority is not a licence for bulldozing

The BJP-led government has demonstrated that the minimum democratic proprieties no longer need be maintained

  • Published 29.07.19, 9:02 AM
  • Updated 29.07.19, 9:02 AM
  • a min read
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Union home minister Amit Shah says the government has no 'sympathy' for ‘urban Maoists’. It may be recalled that a number of activists, journalists and teachers are in prison at the moment under this tag. However, the government’s lack of ‘sympathy’ is not law Telegraph file picture

Undisputed majority in the Lok Sabha is not a licence for bulldozing. It would be, however, excessively foolish to expect the Bharatiya Janata Party to acknowledge this. That the unlawful activities (prevention) amendment bill, 2019 was not sent for review to the parliamentary standing committee as certain Opposition parties had asked was merely a way of demonstrating that the minimum democratic proprieties no longer need be maintained. There may also be a subtext. A review might conclude that the amendment being made — that individuals, not just organizations, can be designated terrorists and that, too, directly by government notification — overturns constitutional rights of equality before the law granted to all Indian citizens. While the grounds for notification have not been spelt out, a citizen designated a terrorist by the Centre will not only have to apply to the government for denotification, since the onus of proof, in effect, will lie with him — going quietly against traditional jurisprudence — but if his application is rejected, he will also have to appear before a review committee formed by the government. This, as the Opposition parties who fought against the passage of the bill pointed out, makes the justice system irrelevant. Predictably, the government gives itself no time frames for denotification or its rejection.

The Union home minister has assured the Opposition, of which three parties walked out before the voting that passed the bill, that there will be no misuse. That is nice to know, only the meaning of ‘misuse’ may be different for the BJP. The Union home minister made a point of mentioning ‘urban Maoists’ in his speech, with whom ‘they’ have no ‘sympathy’. It may be recalled that a number of activists, journalists and teachers are in prison at the moment under this tag. The government’s lack of ‘sympathy’ is not law, just as an individual’s ideology, if it is critical of the government’s, cannot make him a ‘terrorist’. Perhaps questioning a BJP member of parliament accused of terrorist acts might be considered a ‘misuse’ of the amended law. Laws against terrorism, irrespective of the party heading the government, do not have a clean history, because of the powers they give to the enforcing bodies. Allowing an anti-terror law to target individuals in an environment of increasing polarization cannot be reassuring under any circumstances.

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