On 8 July, the union home minister Amit Shah introduced an amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the Lok Sabha. The Act is an anti-terror law which penalises groups by labelling them either as “unlawful associations” or “terrorist organisations.” One of the important changes to the law that the amendment made was that it allowed the central government to label an individual a terrorist if it “believes” that is the case.
The amendment was hastily passed without any scrutiny by a parliamentary committee, and came in to effect on 14 August. As Shah pointed out in parliament, many countries across the world have similar legislations to deal with lone-wolf terrorist acts. But this does not take away from many worrying portents central to the amendment. A closer look at the details of the statute, or the lack thereof, reveals that the Act has procedurally vested unfettered power in the central government to control the process of labelling anyone a terrorist.
This line of critique overshadows three specific characteristics of the amendment, which make it crystal clear that the government has acted with a blatant disregard for the constitutional compact between the state and a citizen. These are, specifically, the ambiguity about which authority in the government decides whom to label a terrorist and on what basis, how this information gets communicated to the labeled individual and the law’s silence about the consequence of being labelled a terrorist. The government has not provided satisfactory details about these elements in the amendment, and instead simply emphasised the amendment’s importance to national security, in line with its larger political narrative. It seems that future conversations around the “terrorist” label will hinge solely upon the information that the government hands out at its convenience—treating Indians not as citizens of a democracy, but as if they are subjects of a police state.