The bill moved by the Centre to amend the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), was passed by Lok Sabha two days ago with 287 votes for and eight against. Parties including Congress, Trinamool Congress, DMK, CPM and NCP demanded the bill to be referred to the subject committee and when the demand was rejected, walked out of the house.
After the NIA amendment bill passed last week, this is the most important amendment legislation brought by the Centre. Even the current UAPA is under fire with serious allegations. The fact is that UAPA has been used for detaining hundreds of youth either on flimsy reasons, or without any grounds at all for indefinite periods thereby destroying their very lives. It is also a fact that most of the victims in such cases are Muslims. Naturally, when UAPA reincarnates with more stringent provisions, weaker sections including Muslims will have anxieties. But, as was pointed out in this column in the context of the NIA amendment bill, no one should be under the illusion that this amendment will affect Muslims specifically or exclusively. The current form of UAPA itself contains ample provisions to harass Muslims. As it happened in the case of NIA amendment, the changes in UAPA will also result in the state home ministry becoming totally irrelevant. Therefore, what will happen through this amendment is the fulfilment of the BJP scheme in which federalism will fully disappear and the entire country will become a terrorist police state.
The present amendments are mainly on three counts. As per the law hitherto, only organizations can be declared terrorists and banned. With the new amendment, individuals can also be declared terrorist. The second amendment empowers NIA to confiscate the assets of individuals once they are declared terrorist. And when NIA proceeds with the confiscation, it does not have to wait for the consent from state DGP. Instead NIA can walk into any state and take over the assets of those who it declared terrorist. In the pre-amended version, the authority to probe terrorist cases rested with police officers not below the rank of DySP. But with the amendment, if NIA is the entity booking the case, any officer of the rank of Inspector can proceed with the case. In other words, by sidelining even the DGP of a state, an ordinary inspector of NIA can descend on a state and strut freely for the probe. Suffice is to say, that the state home ministers and DGP's can henceforth focus their attention on the 'major' tasks like traffic control or issuing loud speaker permission! Most of the major issues of law and order that come under the jurisdiction of state police, have already come under the Centre with the NIA amendment bill passed last week.
Simply put, the Central home ministry is graduating into the role of a sovereign emperor. But the seriousness of this does not seem to have dawned on the main opposition including the Congress. For, if they had been seized of it, and if they had come together for a collective homework on the issue, they could have defeated the NIA amendment bill in Rajya Sabha. They failed to do that. It is unlikely that Congress adopted this indifferent position because UAPA and NIA were introduced by them. On the other hand, a false impression has been created that NIA amendment and UAPA amendment were laudable national plans to supress 'Muslim terrorists'. That being so, they probably did not want to earn the disrepute of opposing such an amendment of law. But as a matter of fact, both these amendments are laws that affect not merely Muslims. It is a common principle that any black laws will most affect the weakest of the society. Given that, Muslims will will certainly face challenges. But, more than that, what these amendments are going to do is to re-write our very political dispensation - a structural shift in which state home ministries will become irrelevant. It is all part of a grand design to remould the national framework to a point of no return.
UAPA amendment bill has yet to be tabled in Rajya Sabha – its last battle front where resistance is still possible. If the opposition close ranks and shut all loopholes with a clear planning, they can block the legislation there. But whether Congress will be prepared for that, is the crucial question at this eleventh hour.