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After NIA and UAPA amendments, Amit Shah needs to go after conversion mafia

Like a hammer blow, leaving no room for doubt. India now has an uncompromising majority of Hindu nationalists.

The other day, the Lok Sabha passed the NIA Amendment Bill, expanding the mandate of the investigative agency, giving it more teeth to act against terrorism. What is noteworthy is the huge margin by which the bill passed the house, with only six votes cast against it.

These six votes came from predictable sources: one from Asaduddin Owaisi and one from the National Conference. Both of those parties do not care about what India’s majority Hindu population is thinking. The other votes against the bill came from the Left, which has long retired from mainstream politics.

Now, you may wonder, well, that’s just the Lok Sabha. The opposition will crawl out of the woodwork when the bill gets to the upper house, where the BJP is not on a strong footing. Well, prepare to be (happily) surprised.

Rajya Sabha passed the NIA (Amendment) Bill

The Rajya Sabha has already passed the Bill and unanimously so. That’s right. Nobody voted against the bill.

How did that happen? How did the Rajya Sabha go from blocking even clerical changes to the Motor Vehicles Act to waving through the NIA Amendment Bill unanimously?

Why the Opposition in Rajya Sabha voted for the Bill

As The News Minute reports, they were quite simply worried about what voting against the bill would do to their already shattered image.

Now, this is not the most noble sentiment I have expressed, but I will say, Ye darr achcha laga.

Remember that this is not the fear of the BJP or that of Amit Shah. These opposition parties are worried, possibly for the first time ever, of how mainstream Hindus will perceive them. Common Hindus, who are no longer scared of thinking clearly, speaking out vocally and expressing themselves at the voting booth.

Suffice to say, that when the new Modi ministry took shape, the maximum expectations that BJP supporters had was from the new Home Minister Amit Shah.

And so far, the slew of new legislation suggests a planned approach. Soon after the NIA Amendment bill, the Lok Sabha also passed amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). These laws go very well together. The new UAPA allows the head of the NIA to designate individuals as terrorists and seize their assets and properties while they are under investigation. Meanwhile, the NIA Amendment Bill expands the jurisdiction of the agency to include things like counterfeit currency and human trafficking.

Remember that such crimes are often closely related to terrorism. At the end of the day, it is illegal flow of money that makes terrorism work. An additional advantage is that financial crimes related to terrorism are somewhat easier to establish in criminal court compared to actual violent crimes. Financial crimes generally leave some kind of paper trail. Establishing a terrorist conspiracy can be harder.

Another feature is that the NIA now has extra territorial jurisdiction, allowing them to investigate cases where Indians or their interests may be harmed by terrorism anywhere in the world. Terrorist conspiracies are now fully global and it is time that the Indian legal framework took the new reality into account. Most Western countries have already updated their systems accordingly.

Both developments are to be relished: the new buttoned up approach of the Home Ministry to terror offenses and the opposition shying away from disagreeing with the government on issues of national security. Who would believe that just 3 years ago, the government could barely get the opposition on board with the surgical strike?

Even in the aftermath of the Balakot air strike, it seemed as if the opposition was more comfortable believing Pakistan PM Imran Khan than the Indian Air Force.

How far we have come and how quickly! The verdict of 2014 came as a shock to India’s ‘secular’ establishment, but many were left wondering if it was a fluke, a flash in the pain. In the wake of this, the opposition seemed quite comfortable sharing platform with seditious voices from the intellectual complex. Be it the Navy blowing up the terror boat from Pakistan, the Army’s punitive action against terror groups based in Myanmar, or the surgical strike across the LoC and finally the air strike across the international border, they were comfortable playing it down, at times even appearing to mock it.

But then May 23, 2019 happened. Like a hammer blow, leaving no room for doubt. India now has an uncompromising majority of Hindu nationalists.

There is one more concern in front of Amit Shah’s Home Ministry, which needs to be addressed with just as much urgency. This is the problem of conversion factories and subversive NGOs living it large on foreign money.

This is a tricky issue. Over the last five years, literally thousands of NGOs have had their licenses canceled over FCRA violations. But the money keeps flowing in through some loophole or the other. And raids last year on an internationally known NGO showed that they are not scared to defy our laws in broad daylight. The NGO concerned appeared to have set up an ordinary for profit company like any other and taken in money from abroad by the FDI route! The brazenness is simply staggering.

While it is hoped that at least some of such brazen financial irregularities can be swept up under the ambit of the new UAPA and NIA laws, we are still far from stopping the flow of poison money through FCRA. And, as the above example shows, with FCRA norms getting tighter and tighter, some NGOs are junking the route altogether and getting money via shell companies using the FDI channels. They know India needs foreign investment. We simply do not have the option to make FDI norms stricter.

The problem of foreign missionaries pouring in is quite similar. From what I have heard, it is already nearly impossible to get missionary visas for India. But most missionaries simply go for an ordinary tourist visa. Again, we need foreign tourists to come here and we need to make it easy for them. We can’t harass genuine tourists at airports or make them feel unwelcome. There is only so much an officer can do at a port of entry to find out whether someone is lying about the real purpose of the visit.

This is why the government needs to take a different approach, from the end user side of things. First of all, it is time to bring in a nationwide anti-conversion law. Very importantly, such a law should not be dependent purely on enforcement by state police, but should be under the jurisdiction of central government agencies. Just like human trafficking has been brought under the ambit of NIA.

One way to do this would be to expand the powers of an organization such as the CRPF. As things stand, there is hardly anything “Central” when it comes to operations of the CRPF. Even though the CRPF falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the CRPF operates in any state purely on request and under the direct control of the police authorities of the concerned state government. However, the CRPF can be given direct powers to carry out arrests in certain cases such as human trafficking, counterfeit currency or conversion rackets, which generally operate across state lines.

The final step of course, is awareness among the general public, especially vulnerable population groups about the conversion mafia. Just the way such population groups would be educated about human traffickers. A few years ago, a group of Sarna tribals in Jharkhand got together and called the cops when people in their village were accosted by conversion mafia. Bear in mind that Jharkhand has some of the strictest anti-conversion laws in the country. But giving powers to a central agency to arrest and prosecute conversion mafia would give the confidence to our people that they can practice our millennia old faiths free from interference and coercion by colonially minded outsiders.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author.  

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