Friday, May 23, 2008

Educating S. Prasannarajan

In a quasi-editorial in India Today on the recent terrorist attacks in Jaipur, S. Prasannarajan says:

We may not have to go to the extent of Guantanamo and other extremities but, in the age of the jihadist martyrdom chic, giving up a little bit of civil liberty for the common good is not the same as giving in to the paranoia of a totalitarian state.

The Government killed POTA because it was “draconian”, but what has it got as an alternative? It is as if this Government’s humanism abhors any law that violates the fundamental rights of the terrorist.

Clearly, Prasannarajan thinks POTA -- The Prevention of Terrorism Act (2002) -- is what India needs for taking on the terrorists. Perhaps he needs some education about how "effectively" it took on the terrorists was when it was in force.

Here are just a couple of examples from this report (of The People’s Tribunal on POTA and Other Security Legislation, Delhi, March 13-14, 2004).

Bhagat Singh and Prabhakaran, both teenagers, were arrested by Tamil Nadu police and charged under POTA. Why? Because the police couldn’t find their fathers, the boys were picked up as proxies for their absent fathers. ...

Are Bhagat Singh and Prabhakaran terrorists, Mr. Prasannarajan? Do you want them to "[give] up a little bit of civil liberty for the common good? Have they given you enough of their civil liberties, or do you want more? Have you talked to Vaiko, Mr. Prasannarajan?

Here's more from the same report, for Prasannarajan's benefit:

POTA detainees include writers and thinkers who wrote or thought things with which the State disagreed. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Valeti Arvind Kumar, who writes under the pen name "Rivera," was found in possession of literature deemed revolutionary and was arrested. Others detained under POTA in Andhra included poor tailors, a photographer and a doctor. K. Balagopal commented, "These statutes claim to be legal instruments for counter insurgency. They are, in fact, political instruments of the Indian states’ policies of counter insurgency dressed up as legislative instruments… the only method that the Indian State has had of meeting this challenge is to attack the social base — the communities or classes of society — in whom, among whom, and purportedly for whom, these activities take place. This is a policy that should be unacceptable to any notion of democracy." [...]

As one of the Tribunal panellists, Ms. Syeda Hameed, observed, "Listening to the victims through the two days, it struck me that with the exception of the politicians from Tamil Nadu, every person who deposed before the Bench was ragged and wretched." Ms. Hameed pointed out that the State’s view seems to be that "terror is spread only by the poor and marginalised. The rich and famous, by definition, are peace-loving loyalists while the poor, by the same definition, are anti–national terrorists…"

Not only are the individual testimonies heard by the Tribunal compelling, their combined effect is so chilling that we are all forced to ask ourselves if we have been so driven over the edge by our fears that instruments of the State that exist to protect its citizenry have really been used to target the powerless in society, including religious minorities, because they make such convenient scapegoats.

Perhaps Prasannarajan will benefit from this paragraph as well:

Experience has shown that anti-terrorist laws like TADA or POTA have neither prevented the occurrence of terrorist acts nor acted as deterrents to the use of violence for dispute resolution. The conviction rate for TADA cases was less than two per cent. Ironically, political organisations led by the BJP were at the forefront of the opposition to TADA, even during the height of violence in Punjab. A review of the testimonies of the accused under POTA heard by the Tribunal reveals the same pattern as was prevalent in the widespread abuse of the universally discredited TADA. Innocent people, rather than terrorists, have once again been the victims. We do not believe that such laws can be reformed or ‘improved upon’. They must be repealed lock, stock and barrel. POTA, in particular, should be repealed retrospectively, deleting all charges framed under it. [Bold emphasis added].

Why is it, Mr. Prasannarajan, that you don't acknowledge the real reasons behind the repeal of POTA? Why should your wet dreams about how POTA will make India safe take precedence over the horrible reality of how it actually functioned? What, in other words, makes you so sure that POTA is what India needs?

Finally, aren't you being such a demagogue when you equate opposition to POTA to a concern for 'fundamental rights of terrorists'?

Where is your concern, Mr. Prasannarajan, for the fundamental rights of what all our national pledge calls 'my brothers and sisters'-- all Indians?

* * *

As for how India can become better at combating terrorism on its soil, Mr. Prasannarajan should read what some of his own colleagues have to say. POTA and other such ideas come late in their article (with some qualifications), but the first things that they talk about are basic things: better intelligence gathering, better coordination among our law enforcement agencies, more cops on the ground, etc. Even the use of bigger, better, more expensive hi-tech gadgets gets a higher billing in their article than POTA!


  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Abi - I enjoy your long posts much more than your links. Especially when you're angry! Keep going. This one was spot-on and I wish I'd seen it a couple of days ago.

  2. Anonymous said...

    I guess one of the tools could be to keep politician's involvement in anti-terrorism operations minimal. Am not too sure whether they do their bit in "protecting" certain terrorists who carry out their bidding.

  3. Animesh said...

    great job Abi! Echoing Rahul's PoV, I love your long posts -- and completely agree with your take.

    Adding to the "techniques to combat terrorism", I always wonder why our minds get limited to the _cure_, rather than the _prevention_. As long as the powers that be keep denying the common man the means to earn a decent wage and the feeling of enfranchisement, there will be unrest. To add to that, when the higher-ups choose to ignore peaceful demonstrations, only to respond to extremists [think Irom Sharmila versus ULFA for Assam, or the fact that the US admin Paul Bremer talked to all extremist leaders in Iraq in their initial days, and to none of the moderates], they send a very wrong message to the affected commons --- that violence is the only effective way out.

    And then another blast happens, and then the hawks again want stricter rules without much oversight, without spending any time on the _reasons_ behind those actions. I wonder when they will stop looking for the local maxima and take a wide-angle view of the state-of-affairs.


    keep writing!

  4. Rahul Basu said...

    While I fully agree with the position you have taken, Prasannarajan is just not worth wasting your anger on. Since I have been reading Prasannarajan, he has never said anything that is not reactionary, retrograde, infantile or just plain stupid. To make it worse, unlike William Buckley, he doesn't even write halfway decent English. If you follow through his columns, you will find he is a thinly veiled apologist for the Sangh Parivar with no redeeming characteristics.

    Don't waste your breath (or byte-space) on him. He isn't worth it. Neither, for that matter, is India Today.

  5. Anant said...

    I like it even better when Rahul B is angry. Keep up the good work guys.

  6. Anonymous said...

    I felt your anger. Down with Prasannarajan.

  7. Abi said...

    Rahul S: Thanks for your thumbs up for this kind of rants. On most days, however, links are all I have.

    Anon: I don't quite get what you are trying to convey. Can you explain again?

    Animesh: I agree with you. In her recent talk at IISc, Aruna Roy did say something similar: the government doesn't listen to those using democratic, non-violent modes of protest. When protests turn violent, it sits up and takes notice; and in the cases you mentioned, it actually negotiates with them!

    Rahul B: I haven't read much of Prasannarajan; I just happened to read his stuff yesterday at our faculty club, and I realized that his view is shared by a lot of people who want the government to "just do something," and one of the things they want is POTA. Thus Prasannarajan is not the only target of this post.

    But, given what I know about Prasannarajan, I am in complete agreement with you; he is just a partisan hack masquerading as a journalist.

    About India Today: it has been quite sometime since I read that magazine. I think I should stay away from it. Like you said, it's pretty pathetic.

    Anant, Socrates: Thanks!

  8. Akilan said...

    Reading India Today is fun. I don't take anything that appears in it seriously.

  9. Anonymous said...

    POTA is certainly draconian. As you quoted increasing intelligence measures as alternative, it might be encouraging to note that the government is toying with the idea of a federal intelligence agency. An article on this issue can be found at Also, I learnt the planning commission has submitted a report on developmental challenges in terror affected areas in a reference in the Mint "View" section:, although I couldn't see this report on the planning commission website. This report, as it is projected, doesn't favor draconian measures. Of course implementing ideas will take time, but atleast we seem to be moving away from Prasannarajans.