Welcome Address



a one-day national convention on ‘Poto & National Security’ on
Nov. 15, 2001 at Rajinder Bhavan, New Delhi

Ladies and Gentleman,

It is my pleasure to welcome you on behalf of All India Milli Council here to a day of deliberations on the multiple dimensions of POTO and National Security. The Milli Council is an umbrella body of a wide array of Muslim organisations of different schools of thought.

We did not choose this venue at random: our choice was largely dictated by the resonances created by the tenure of the first President of India, after whom this place has been named. President Rajendra Prasad, on whom a grateful nation conferred the honour of Desh Ratna, and preferred to lovingly call Rajendra Babu, was a man of extraordinary integrity. Among the builders of the independent nation state, he valued integrity and forthrightness so much that he sometimes sharply disagreed with his own Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

These two men, along with their illustrious colleagues like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, laid the rules of the political game which implied that difference of opinion was a sign of a vibrant democracy, that dissent was not enmity. We pay our respects to these stalwarts whose stature seems greater today as some of the present set of our leaders clearly and unambiguously tell everybody that whosoever dares to differ with them on controversial issues like POTO is a supporter of terrorists. I wonder where is the political space left for the silent majority of this country. What have we done to Rajendra Babu’s legacy? We must agree to disagree cordially and amicably if we want to remain a democracy. Acceptance of dissent is part of democracy.

We are told that the draconian POTO is the brainchild of ardent admirers of the Iron Man of India, Sardar Ballabh Bhai Patel. That is a travesty of truth. The admirable Sardar was yet another man of integrity who would never stoop so low to enact a gimmick for electoral gains. Men trying to appropriate his legacy should see his correspondence with UP government in the wake of the illegal trespass on Babri Masjid and installation of idols in it under a long-term conspiracy. The Sardar expressed unequivocal disapproval and demanded restoration of the mosque to Muslims in letter after letter. It is yet another matter that a coterie of ministers and bureaucrats kept on dodging his orders on one pretext or the other. From what we know of the Sardar, today’s set of men in power in New Delhi have been only paying lip service to him.

As our distinguished participants are aware, POTO embodies a not so subtle attempt by Central government of the day to silence all dissent by creating a police state dispensation. As leaders of Delhi Union of Journalists rightly observed on November 11, this is introduction of Emergency through the backdoor, by stealth. No wonder, journalists all over the country see this ordinance as a clear attack on freedom of speech and press. The media should know, because they have the firsthand experience of being physically beaten up and humiliated on December 6, 1992 at Ayodhya. The media knows that these men know how to silence them. Hence their concern.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is not only the question of press freedom. It is not only the freedom of speech that is at stake; our fundamental rights as citizens of this republic are in jeopardy. All of us know how corrupt, vicious and communalised our police forces are. They are also incompetent. What they lack by way of professional competence, they try to make up by hamhandedness and brutality. Look at what happened last fortnight in Malegaon. Or look at the report of the TADA review committee, which found irrefutable evidence of widespread misuse of TADA provisions against minorities. Besides the press, the minorities and Dalits are particularly vulnerable.

All laws have in-built safeguards against their misuse. POTO has none. The police are all powerful. Already they have little accountability; POTO confers further legal immunity on them. Immunity and impunity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are living in troubled times. Our neighbourhood is on fire. A great geostrategic upheaval is going on. The turbulence has given our rulers the excuse to give themselves more powers to crush dissent, taking cover of the goings on in the neighbourhood. This is a cynical ploy, putting at risk not only the press and the minorities and Dalits, but the entire civil society. The arc of vulnerability is far larger and covers the entire civil society, the entire spectrum of political opinion –– from left of centre to right of centre. The only unvulnerable are the extreme right groups of saffron hue, for the present. If you create police raj, ultimately you also are going to suffer from its atrocities. That is why I am saying, for the present.

I don’t have to tell you that we have a whole range of laws to deal with all kinds of violent crimes –– from simple brigandage to terrorism. It is not a case of lack of legislation, but one of inadequate implementation. We don’t need any more new laws; all that we need is strict and scrupulous implementation of existing ones.

The government has narrowed the political discourse to extremely simplistic categories: either you are pro-POTO or pro-terrorism. It distinctly echoes President George W. Bush’s magisterial declaration: either you are with America or with WTC attackers. Political choices and alternatives are not so unidimensional and shorn of nuances. Let us hope that our distinguished participants would help clarify the issues fruitfully. And with that I once again welcome you to this seminar.

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