Thursday, November 29, 2001, Chandigarh, India






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POTO: unanimity eludes Vajpayee
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 28
Seeking the support of all NDA partners for the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) is turning out to be delicate and uphill task for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his senior ministerial colleagues.

The paramount task for the Vajpayee government is to first secure the unqualified support of all constituents of the NDA for POTO. Therefore, setting the date for the all-party meeting on POTO will have to wait till the first hurdle within the NDA is overcome.

There is intense opposition to POTO from Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s Shiromani Akali Dal, Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal, the DMK and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telegu Desam Party which is extending support to the Vajpayee government from outside.

Wiser from its past experience, the SAD wants POTO to be scrapped. At the same time the INLD, the DMK and the TDP have strong reservations about POTO being misused against mediapersons and settling scores with political opponents. These parties do not rule out the possibility of POTO being unleashed against minorities as evidenced when the defunct TADA was in force.

Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Union Law and Justice Minister Arun Jaitley are on an overdrive to convince the worried NDA allies that there are enough safeguards in POTO to ensure that the acts of omission or commission of TADA are not repeated.

The SAD, the INLD, the DMK and the TDP stress that the proponents of POTO in the government have a long way to go in removing the genuine fears and apprehensions in respect of some of its “draconian” provisions. Several senior MPs of these parties insist that POTO must be revised drastically to “remove all doubts and apprehensions. POTO, in its present form, can have a deleterious impact on the democratic polity and the freedoms of the people as enshrined in the Constitution.”

It is clear that the Vajpayee government has to first overcome strong resistance to POTO from some of its own NDA partners. Therefore, the stage for the Prime Minister POTO is stillborn as of now.

Sources in the government have their own reservations if the Bill to replace POTO can be brought forward in Parliament within the next fortnight in the wake of the growing resistance to the measure within the NDA.

At the same time the Congress and other opposition parties emphasise that the government has needlessly pushed itself into a corner on POTO. They accuse the government of arrogance and indulging in political one-upmanship with an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections in UP rather than seeking suggestions from the opposition parties and responding to it in a positive manner. They affirm that “POTO in its present form is as good as dead.”

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BJP gears up to face book row
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 28
In a determined bid to convert the issue of the deletion of certain portions from the school books of history into an election issue, the BJP is holding its Parliamentary Party meeting on December 5 to plan a countrywide strategy.

Briefing newspersons, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said while material on the issue of the deletion of certain “objectionable” portions from NCERT history books was distributed to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs today for arming them with arguments in the public debate, a countrywide strategy would be finalised on December 5.

Lashing out at the Congress and the Left for their opposition to the deletion of paragraphs from the history books, Mr Malhotra said it was strange that the same parties were agitated today on the issue of the appearance of a portrait of Prophet Mohammad in an English newspaper which had hurt the sentiments of the Muslims but they were opposing the deletion of certain portions from history books which hurt the sentiments of the Sikhs, Jains, Jats and Hindus.

Referring to Congress leader Arjun Singh’s description of the government’s effort to delete as “Talibanisation” of education, the BJP spokesman recalled the days of Mr Arjun Singh when he was the Human Resource Development Minister and he had given lakhs of Rupees to an NGO called Sahmat which was going to organise an exhibition portraying Ram and Sita as brother and sister which would have literally meant incest.

Ridiculing on the Congress, the spokesman said in a democracy, the initiative for floor management and cooperation among Opposition parties was always taken by the main Opposition party. By leaving it to smaller parties, the Congress had degraded itself”.

He said it was surprising that the initiative for the meeting of leaders of the Opposition parties was taken by the CPM and not the Congress.

He expressed surprise over the Opposition walkout in the Lok Sabha on the issue of intrusion of an American helicopter over Chennai airspace.

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