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An instrument of suppression: Sonia

By Our Special Correspondent

The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, with the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, P.M. Sayeed, at Parliament House in New Delhi on Tuesday. — PTI

New Delhi, March 26. Batting first from the Opposition in the joint sitting of Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, today gave what probably is her best parliamentary performance so far.

Speaking soon after the Union Home Minister, L.K Advani, who was rather off-colour, Ms. Gandhi took the high road, putting the onus of partisanship on the Government. Rather than getting bogged down in technical details on the "inadequacies" of the proposed law, she made a statement of political intent. Simply put, the Congress is opposed to POTO because it "violates the basic human rights of individuals".

Moreover, as far as the Leader of the Opposition was concerned, there were enough reasons to doubt the Government's intentions and motives.

She began by pointing out that "we are not here today to celebrate a consensus on a measure of national importance. We are here today because this Government wishes to exploit a sparing Constitutional provision to achieve its narrow and controversial end."

Accusing the Government of wanting to "manipulate" the process of Parliament to further an agenda of divisiveness, Ms. Gandhi pointed out that the earlier law, TADA, had become "law in a climate of consensus and not in a climate of confrontation".

She referred to the "backdrop of communal tension of murder and looting in Gujarat, a divisive Ayodhya campaign and an outrageous physical attack on the Orissa Assembly" and pointed out that the Government had hoped POTO would yield political and electoral dividend and how the electorate had "rebuffed" the ruling BJP in the recent Assembly elections.

Ms. Gandhi spelt out her party's doubts about the Government's intentions, especially in the context of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi's "blatant partisanship".

"POTO, I suspect, will become an instrument in the hands of this Government to suppress political opponents, religious minorities, ethnic groups, weaker sections of our society and the trade unions."

She questioned the very raison d'etre of the proposed law. "History is witness to the fact that draconian laws have rarely been successful in combating terrorism. This evil is best combated by strengthening social cohesiveness, by promoting communal harmony, by accelerating economic growth and above all, by ensuring distributive equity in the country."

She ended by directing her remarks towards the Prime Minister, and told him that he had to make up his mind: whether he wanted to "protect the welfare of the people of India" or "succumb to the internal pressures of his party and its sister organisations".

She warned that Mr. Vajpayee's "moment of reckoning has come".

The 25-minute speech, delivered before a live national audience, brought out the parliamentarian in Ms. Gandhi. She seemed to pause at the right places, emphasised the crucial points and spoke with a becoming passion. Though she had a prepared text, her delivery was impressive.

She was heard, for most of the time, in silence. Only towards the end of her speech did the NDA benches become restive.

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