Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today weighed in on the debate over the Congress promise to amend the Armed Forces' Special Powers Act, saying it would weaken the armed forces and play into the hands of "terrorists, anti-nationals and traitors". "Why should it be presumed that the powers of security forces are against human rights? Because of this, the armed forces would lose their morale," the Defence minister said.
The Congress, she said, had done nothing after the Mumbai terror attacks. "But now to put in your manifesto that you will weaken the very security structure of our nation shows that you (Congress) are doing things that are going to help and aid anti-nationals, traitors and terrorists," she said.
AFSPA gives special powers to soldiers in insurgency-hit areas - allowing them to arrest, use force and even open fire on anyone breaking the law. The Congress said it would amend the law "to strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture."
Over the years, there have been allegations of excesses by armed forces from locals and activists in Jammu and Kashmir and pockets of the northeast, where the law is in force.
Such an amendment will dilute AFSPA, which would make it possible for even terrorists to get away, saying they have been sexually assaulted and tortured. "Even when it doesn't happen, they can claim so, and get away easily, as they would have to be freed," the minister said.
AFSPA, she said, has been withdrawn in areas where it could be done, she said, like Meghalaya, Nagaland and parts of Assam. But the condition of Jammu and Kashmir is "very sensitive", she added.
The BJP has been attacking the Congress since its manifesto was unveiled yesterday. Union minister Arun Jaitey said parts of it appear to have been drafted by "Congress President's 'tukde-tukde' friends". "I want to ask the Congress chief -- does he want to strengthen the armed forces or is he trying to demoralise them?" demanded BJP chief Amit Shah.
Rebutting Ms Sitharaman's claims, former Union minister P Chidambaram tweeted that it was the BJP which made India vulnerable to terrorist attacks by sitting on two vital initiatives for 5 years.
Both NATGRID or the National Intelligence Grid and the National Counter Terrorism Centre have been not taken off over the last five years. "Is it because the two initiatives were conceived and started by the UPA government?" Mr Chidambaram said.