NEW DELHI – A bill to give broader powers to the National Investigation Agency, India’s anti-terrorism organisation, set the stage for a stormy debate in parliament on Monday, with Home Minister Amit Shah and Hyderabad politician Asaduddin Owaisi engaging in a bitter face-off. “You cannot scare us,” Mr Owaisi said, as Amit Shah wagged a finger at him, asking him to listen to a BJP lawmaker.
The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which gives the agency powers to probe cybercrimes, human trafficking and attacks on Indians on foreign soil, was passed by the Lok Sabha thanks to the government’s comfortable majority. It will need to be passed by the Rajya Sabha and cleared by President Ram Nath Kovind before it comes into force.
The opposition contended that the law would make India a police state and was susceptible to misuse but the government assured that such a situation would not arise.
“What powers are you giving to NIA officer when you send him abroad to investigate someone? Don’t compare us to US and Israel and intrude on other people’s sovereignty… also, you cannot have such a vague definition of national interests in a bill,” Mr Owaisi said.
But a verbal duel between the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader and Mr Shah was triggered when opposition members including Mr Owaisi started objecting to BJP’s Satyapal Singh’s claims during the debate.
Mr Singh alleged that the then Hyderabad Police commissioner was asked by a political leader of the state to change the course of investigation in a particular case else he could be transferred out. He said he found out about the incident as he was Mumbai police commissioner at that time.
Objecting to his claim, Mr Owaisi, a lawmaker from Hyderabad, demanded that that the BJP leader provide proof.
At this, Mr Shah got up from his seat and asked him to stop interrupting. “Mr Owaisi and everybody’s secularism has burst out… we listened patiently when they all were speaking. Learn to listen Owaisi sahab. It can’t go on like this. You have to listen,” the BJP chief said, wagging his finger at the leader.
An agitated Mr Owaisi asked Mr Shah to not point a finger at him and said he cannot be frightened.
The BJP chief countered: “When you have fear in your mind then what can I do.”
Mr Shah also targeted the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for repealing the anti-terror act POTA, saying it was not done because of its alleged misuse but to “save its vote bank”.
He said there was a dramatic spurt in terror attacks after the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed resulting in the same UPA government being forced to constitute NIA after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Later, speaking to news agency ANI, Mr Owaisi said, “Whoever doesn’t support their (BJP’s) decisions, they call them anti-nationals. Have they opened shop of nationals and anti-nationals? Amit Shah threatens us by raising his finger but he is just a Home Minister, not God. He should read rules first.”