Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram had been able to get a quick approval from the Union Cabinet and even Parliament for two Bills — the National Investigation Agency Bill and amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. But on another pet amendment, this time in the National Security Act (NSA), Chidambaram had to quickly backtrack after receiving flack from his colleagues during the Cabinet meeting last Tuesday.
After announcing a slew of new measures in the Lok Sabha on Monday to beef up the security set-up, Chidambaram had prepared a package for the Cabinet meet on Tuesday to reframe the legal aspects in the fight against terror. Chidambaram wanted to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act as well as the NSA to facilitate creation of the National Investigation Agency. Besides, there was also a proposal to amend the CISF Act to allow deployment of the paramilitary force in private establishments.
Before taking up any other Bill, Chidambaram on Tuesday chose to seek approval from the Cabinet for the amendments to the NSA to increase the preventive detention period. But as he spoke about the issue of “preventive detention” other minister became jittery. “Many of us had earlier warned the PM that the NSA amendment might be difficult. The new home minister perhaps forgot that there are ministers in the Cabinet who were victims of detention during the period of Emergency and are apprehensive about NSA,” said a senior minister.
The fear came true as one after another minister, from Railway Minister Lalu Prasad to Steel Minister Ramvilas Paswan, vehemently opposed the move. Even Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee did not support Chidambaram.
According to sources in the Cabinet, “Chidambaram was so upset that he remained quiet for the rest of the meeting. The entire briefing on the next Bill — to create a National Investigation Agency — was given by Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta while the home minister sat silently.”
Chidambaram’s Cabinet colleagues remember it as a special occasion. “Apart from issues related to his own ministry, Chidambaram generally gives valuable opinion on issues dealing with other ministries’ as well. He has a sharp mind and his observations are mostly appreciated. But on Tuesday, he perhaps did not expect such a backlash, especially when there is an urgent need to combat terror,” said a senior minister.
Earlier, the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Congressman M Veerappa Moilly had also proposed a slew of changes in the NSA, an Act brought under the Congress rule in 1980. Although the NSA did not exist during the Emergency (1975-1977), ministers like Lalu Prasad are very critical about the massive detentions exercised on political leaders during that period. The NSA provides sweeping powers to the state to detain any person if the government is “satisfied” that the person will act in “any manner prejudicial to the defence of India, the relations of India with foreign powers or the security of India”.