Sunday, August 10, 2008

Govt not soft on terror, stats on our side

Govt not soft on terror, stats on our side

Karan Thapar / CNN-IBN

New Delhi, Sun, Aug 10, 2008 at 20:02: Why is the Centre blocking the legislative laws that certain states have proposed to the President’s office for concurrence? Is the Centre soft on terror? Is the situation in Jammu and Kashmir giving the Centre sleepless nights? Karan Thapar quizzed Home Minister Shivraj Patil on theses and other issues in Devil’s Advocate and here’s what followed.

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to ‘Devil’s Advocate’. How does the government view the situation in Jammu and Kashmir? Has the time come to take special measures to tackle terrorism? Those are the two issues I shall explore today with the Home Minister of India, Shivraj Patil. Home Minister. Let’s start with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. In your assessment, how grave is the situation?

Shivraj Patil: The situation (in Jammu and Kashmir) is something that must be handled very carefully and handled in a manner that does not hurt the feelings of any section of society over there.

Karan Thapar: So is it proving to be a challenge?

Shivraj Patil: It has to be handled in a manner which would help overcome the difficulties which may arise out of misunderstanding.

Karan Thapar: Do you fear that the present crisis in Jammu and Kashmir could re-ignite either the militancy or the cessation tendencies which were beginning to come down this year?

Shivraj Patil: Militancy and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir had come down in the last four years by 70 per cent. It is a big achievement. And I would give credit to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the government of Jammu and Kashmir. But these kinds of activities may encourage some people to either continue or to increase the militancy.

Karan Thapar: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mehbooba Mufti have both said that the Kashmiris are considering reviving pre-1947 economic links with parts of Kashmir that are now in Pakistan. And to be honest, many other people on television from the Valley have expressed similar sentiments. Does that worry you?

Shivraj Patil: I would not like to comment on the statements given by these leaders without going into the details. You will please excuse me for the same.

Karan Thapar: But what about truck drivers on the road, and ordinary people in the shops in Kashmir. They say that if there is an economic blockade and we can’t trade with Delhi, then we will revive relations with Pakistan. Does that sentiment worry you?

Shivraj Patil: I do not think that it is a sentiment which is entertained by every truck driver or every citizen.

Karan Thapar: Is it a minority, then?

Shivraj Patil: Why I say this is because the road is open. The road is used by the truck drivers and the others. From the Valley, they can go to Jammu and from Jammu they can go to Punjab the other parts of the country.

Karan Thapar: But Home Minister, on Thursday and even on Friday there were people from Srinagar saying that they can’t get their fruits through, they aren’t receiving their medicine supplies. These are the ordinary people saying that if you cannot open the roads, then we will revive economic links with Pakistan.

Shivraj Patil: That will not be necessary and anybody who understands the geography, history and the conditions of the region, would agree. But the road is open and we will do our best to see that the road is not closed or allowed to be blocked by the agitators.

Karan Thapar: Did the intelligence agencies warn the Government that emotions and passions were building up in such an exceptional way, particularly in Jammu or were you taken by surprise?

Shivraj Patil: No, we did have some information but that information was not limited to Jammu. That information also pertained to Kashmir.

Karan Thapar: But did you expect an outcry, an emotional outburst of this nature?

Shivraj Patil: I would say that what has happened there is something that has to be carefully dealt with. But then, we were not unaware that something of this nature could be started by somebody.

Karan Thapar: Twice before, you have said that the situation has to be dealt with carefully. How much of a test is it?

Shivraj Patil: This is psychological test just as much as it is an economic, social and even a political one. All these aspects have to be borne in mind while trying to solve the problem, which is faced there.

Karan Thapar: Without naming any names, because I know you do not want to, would you say that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir represents a failure of the Government at various levels?

Shivraj Patil: We shall have to consider not only the Government but the political sections of the society also; as the social and cultural angle and the history and geography of the place too.

Karan Thapar: So the element of failure and responsibility could be very widespread?

Shivraj Patil: If something of this nature happens, each one of us, whether or not we do something, are sorry and at times we feel that it could have been better if we were able to avert it…it could have been done, it would have been better.

Karan Thapar: The Government is sending an all-party delegation. You desire to speak to the widest cross section of people. The BJP in particular had asked not once, but repeatedly to hold talks with the (Amarnath) Sangharsh Samiti. Are you prepared? Is the Prime Minister prepared to do that?

Shivraj Patil: Well, I would not speak for the Prime Minister. In fact, as suggested, the Prime Minister has already spoken to the leaders of different parties…personally, separately and in fact in the conference also. And the attitude of the Government of India and the Prime Minister has been to facilitate dialogue at every level. But in this case we have to go step by step, it not correct that we should jump to the highest level alone (directly). Now, if we could hold a meet where all the party leaders met and they said that let a delegation (from the centre) go there (to Jammu and Kashmir) and meet and talk to them and later on, let also consider their suggestions…and yet afterwards take a call on what can be done…then it can be done!

Karan Thapar: So, later on it is possible that the Prime Minister could get involved himself, but not at this stage. Right?

Shivraj Patil: I wouldn’t say ‘Yes’ or ‘and all those things.

Karan Thapar: You have an open mind on the issue, right?

Shivraj Patil: I did tell you that the Prime Minister did meet so many people from Kashmir…the Hurriyat people and the others. He did go there and he met them there.

Karan Thapar: Let me put this to you. There’s no doubt that the Government is going to hold talks, there’s no doubt that you are going there and so is External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee going. Does the Government have a proposal in mind that could become the framework of a solution? Do you have any ideas?

Shivraj Patil: This is the time when we would like to hear what they have to say. We have our own views; we do have our own ideas. But we are not going to say that this is the way in which you should think.

Karan Thapar: So you going to hear first, is it?

Shivraj Patil: Yes, we will hear first and then we shall cull out the common points. Then we will try to do the things in such a manner that it will give satisfaction to all concerned.

Karan Thapar: So in other words, you are going to go, you are going to hear and then you are going to try and put together a formula incorporating what you have heard?

Shivraj Patil: Yes, in co-operation with all party leaders and in co-operation with the Government and everybody.

Karan Thapar: Today, there are voices in Jammu and the Valley, calling for a division between Jammu and Kashmir. Some others are calling for trifurcation of the state. Could that be a solution or is that ruled out completely?

Shivraj Patil: These are very big issues. It is not proper for a minister to express his views on issues like this. I would leave it to the entire government as such to decide rather than saying anything on this.

Karan Thapar: So, there is no official government position on this issue?

Shivraj Patil: We have a position, but if we say yes or no, it has repercussions. At this point in time we should avoid such things.

Karan Thapar: Quite right, so it is an open position. You are neither saying, yes, you aren’t saying ‘No’, but you are waiting to see how things develop.

Shivraj Patil: No, as a matter of fact, there are people who are saying that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh should not be divided into regions and that they should remain one; and there are other groups that say ‘No, it is necessary to do that.’ Now what must the government do? The government is continuing with what is available now.

Karan Thapar: But is the Government listening? Will the Government form its views later on?

Shivraj Patil: We are living in a democracy and if some people have expressed their views, we cannot say, ‘do not express!’. And if majority of the people is expressing their views differently, we cannot say that even if you are in big numbers we are not going to consider your opinions.

Karan Thapar: Meanwhile, the BJP has announced that they will launch a nation wide general strike on August 11th. Does it worry you that this could exacerbate the situation both in Jammu and in the Valley?

Shivraj Patil: I would say that I would appeal to any political party or any section of the society and request them to refrain them from doing anything that would encourage the divisive forces or the forces of misunderstanding between the sections in society. But in a political situation if they have taken a decision we leave it to them, to their judgment and their assessment and we think that all political parties and all the leaders of political parties in the country understand the implications of each and every step they take.

Karan Thapar: Are you worried that things in Jammu and Kashmir might take a turn for the worse before they start getting better?

Shivraj Patil: I am not worried about anything. I have to be careful about everything. And I do not have to lose heart. But I have full faith in the capacity of the people and that of the political parties. I have full faith in the capacity of the government to understand the things involved in such issues and then to tackle the issue itself.

Karan Thapar: I want to talk to you Home Minister about the terror situation India confronts. The tribunal looking into the SIMI matter has rebuffed the Government initially by revoking a ban on SIMI. Many people see this not only as embarrassing but also as a slap in the face of the Government. How do you comment on this?

Shivraj Patil: Now, if you think that the evidence has to be given in the complaint itself or in a petition itself, it cannot be done. Evidence is separately produced.

Karan Thapar: Are you suggesting that the judge heading the tribunal slightly misunderstood and that he actually looked for the evidence?

Shivraj Patil: I should not be criticising the judge. This is not a forum where I can criticise the judge. I am trying to explain that the evidence is given in a folder. Then the judge takes a call and a decision on whether the evidence is enough or not or could more evidence have been given. If this matter has been decided by one court then we in India have the appellate jurisdiction.

Karan Thapar: Yes, I do understand that the matter then went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court ruled in your favour. But the point is that the newspapers are reporting that the reason why the judge revoked your ban at the tribunal level is because your officials were deemed to be unprepared. She (the judge) said that you had given documents that were two years old. She was suggesting that the Home Ministry had handled this issue without competence.

Shivraj Patil: Well, I cannot sit in judgment on the judgment delivered by a judge. It will be wrong on my part to do so.

Karan Thapar: But are you embarrassed by the judgment?

Shivraj Patil: I would say that I would wait before I form any opinion about any thing like this until the judgment is given by the Supreme Court finally. The intervening stage is exactly the stage when we should use our discretion to be restrained.

Karan Thapar: You are asking the press and the people of the country to wait till the final judgment but people are saying just this…are you embarrassed as Home Minister that your ministry and your officials should be written about in the papers in this manner?

Shivraj Patil: So many people take pleasure in embarrassing us and in writing things about us. But sometimes as human beings, we also feel hurt. But we cannot function by feeling hurt or embarrassed. We have to do our duty. Instead of criticising the court or the judge who delivered this judgment, our duty was to go against the judgment and we went to the Supreme Court against the judgment. And the Supreme Court did not take any time in giving an order staying the judgment.

Karan Thapar: Let’s then broaden the subject. Many people in India are concerned about vulnerability of the country against terrorism. Let me ask a simple question. Do you view terrorism as a law and order issue essentially handled at the state government level or do you see it as an attack on the defence of India and the integrity of the country…and therefore a subject to be tackled by the Centre?

Shivraj Patil: The defence of India is the responsibility of the Government of India assisted by the state governments. Maintaining law and order is the responsibility of the state government. And maintaining it, whether, it is militancy or extremism, is the responsibility of the state government assisted by the Union Government.

Karan Thapar: Wait, wait a little. So, you are saying that terrorism is a problem related to law and order and therefore a primary responsibility of the state government?

Shivraj Patil: Yes, I am saying that.

Karan Thapar: Then, let me put this to you. This is a point made by the BJP many times. They say that if the Government believes that terrorism is primarily the state-government-issue, then why is the Central Government preventing the President from giving her assent to five different legislations that have been passed by the state governments to tackle terrorism? They say it is contradictory.

Shivraj Patil: When TADA was on the statute book it was opposed by those who were responsible for enacting POTA. We asked them why did you do it? They said that they did it because TADA gives you the right to jail a person for more years than a person would be jailed under regular laws. Now, should we not apply the same principles here?

Karan Thapar: I understand what you are saying. The same people who are criticising you today are being hypocritical because they adopted a different position when TADA was in the statute book.

Shivraj Patil: Yes.

Karan Thapar: But just because these people are being hypocritical, does not mean that there is no need for tougher legislation.

Shivraj Patil: That is why, when we repealed POTA, we did not repeal it lock, stock and barrel. We transferred the provisions in POTA to Unlawful Activities Act.

Karan Thapar: It is true that you transferred many of POTA’s clauses to Unlawful Activities Act.

Shivraj Patil: Not clauses but whole chapters.

Karan Thapar: But there were two important provisions that never got transferred. One is the provision for tougher bail and the second one was provision that enables in court the admission of certain types of evidence. Both were left out. Today the police chiefs say that they were necessary in the fight against terror.

Shivraj Patil: That is exactly what has to be understood. Under the evidence act, the criminal procedure code and under the existing laws of the Unlawful Activities Act, a non-bailable case is decided by the court. The court can say that ‘I give you the bail’ or even say that ‘I don’t give you bail’.

Karan Thapar: What you are suggesting is that the laws as they are existing today are sufficient in the fight against terror and that you do not need tougher laws. Is that the position you are taking?

Shivraj Patil: My position is clear. In my opinion, the existing laws should be used properly. They can certainly help the police and the investigating authority in controlling terrorists. But if, in cases, the law says that he can be jailed for 60 days, but they (the law authorities) want it for 90, 120 or 150s day, it can be done. But if you are going to say that he can be in there for any number of days, like be put into jail for three years without giving him the bail, when he is to be punished for a year, I am not going to accept that.

Karan Thapar: That means you are ready for certain toughening and not a blanket toughening of the law?

Shivraj Patil: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Okay. So you think you have answered satisfactorily the reasons why the Central Government is preventing the President in giving her assent to the five different legislations that are on the books by the states of UP, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat. The contrary position is that the state of Maharashtra, admittedly before you came to power has passed identical legislations. So, the net result is that today in India, in Maharashtra and Gujarat, to take that example, you have different laws with different criteria and standards for tackling terrorism. Surely, today, terrorism is a major problem and that is indefensible.

Shivraj Patil: That is exactly why there is a provision of three lists in our constitution. The legislative powers are given to the state legislature. They can make any law. But if it is in the concurrent list, whether a draconian provision should be accepted…having repealed POTA, having gone to the people on this issue specifically, if we are doing it and when the Parliament says that such a law should not be on the statute book, if you ask the executive to say that, ‘No,’ then that is not done.

Karan Thapar: There’s a small problem in your answer. You began your answer by stating the three lists in the constitution. The law and order has given to the states. Five state governments have passed legislations that they believe are essential in the fight against terror and yet you are stopping it, so you are contradicting the principal you began by announcing.

Shivraj Patil: No. The executive of the state and the state legislature will decide whether the existing laws should remain on a statute book or should they be repealed. But if the new laws are coming which are contrary to the decision taken by the people at large through the elections, contrary to the decisions taken by the Parliament in repealing POTA….

Karan Thapar: That you won’t permit?

Shivraj Patil: You will ask me, if the Parliament decides these things, can the executive say yes to it?

Karan Thapar: My last question. Many people hearing you will say that this is just an excuse to cover up the fact that this Government is weak on terror.

Shivraj Patil: If you look at the statistics related to the casualties, the injured persons and the damage to property, if you compare the last four years’ time with the four years before that, and find that the statistics are in favour of this Government, then how can you say that we are soft on terror? And even if we are soft on terror and the method is working, we should adopt it and continue with it.

Karan Thapar: I should point out to you Home Minister that people will disagree but thank you for speaking to us.

Shivraj Patil: Okay.

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