By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI: Heated political debate is brewing between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over Communal Violence Bill cleared recently by National Advisory Council (NAC), led by United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-head Sonia Gandhi. The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Regulations) Bill 2011, if adopted by Parliament, will permit the center to intervene in cases of communal or targeted violence by invoking a provision in article 355 of the Constitution. As per this article, the bill permits the central government to declare any case of communal violence as â€œinternal disturbanceâ€ and take actions considered appropriate. The centerâ€™s duty, according to article 355, is â€œto protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and ensure the government of every state is carried on in accordance with provisions of this Constitution.â€
Criticizing the proposed bill, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said it would lead to intrusion into states, make the majority community culpable and damage inter-community relations. Countering BJPâ€™s stand, Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: â€œWe are shocked at the BJPâ€™s reaction. Firstly, nothing has been finalized. Opinions are being sought from diverse sections. The BJP is trying to further its communal agenda. It is trying to do so by pre-emptive strike and debunking a draft bill under discussion.â€ He added: â€œThe country knows which political party has communal agenda from its birth, continues to be bound by umbilical chord of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and carries the shame of Gujarat, Karnataka and Babri with ease.â€ With the party (BJP) being â€œnaturally worried,â€ it has opted for this â€œpre-emptive strike,â€ Singhvi said.
The bill has also been described by the BJP as â€œdangerous, draconian, discriminatory and damaging to Indiaâ€™s federal policy.â€ The Congress has retaliated by saying: â€œWe will fight them to the end on this issue, there wonâ€™t be compromises. There will be a huge political cost involved for anybody who sides with the BJP on this issue.â€
The Congress is confident that the BJP would be isolated in its opposition to the bill when it is introduced in the Parliament. â€œThe BJP is free to challenge the constitutional validity of the law after it is enacted. Let it be tested in court instead of trying to abort it before its birth on petty and trivial grounds. The BJPâ€™s pernicious propaganda is reflective of its communal agenda and guilt complex,â€ Singhvi said. The Congress is â€œdeterminedâ€ to bring the bill in the next session of the Parliament.
Rejecting BJPâ€™s allegation on centerâ€™s plan to encroach into statesâ€™ domain, Singhvi said that the clause which permits this, also has safeguards. Before intervening, the center would first advise the state, if there was a communal flare-up. The center would wait for action and would intervene only if stateâ€™s inaction led the situation to further flare up.
Justifying the need for central intervention in serious cases, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal cited the experience of Gujarat-carnage. Despite nine years having passed by, FIR had not been registered in many cases, Sibal pointed out. A Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by Supreme Court, was still examining the need to lodge an FIR in the Gujarat-cases, which only necessitates the need for central intervention in extraordinary cases, Sibal said.
Demanding explanation on controversial provisions of the bill, which allegedly hold only majority community as responsible for riots, BJP senior leader Ravi Shanker Prasad said: â€œTell us clearly, Soniaji- can the majority community in India become victims of communal violence or not?â€ Dismissing the need for the bill, Prasad said: â€œWe all agree that riots should be prevented. But prevention should not become worse than the disease. There is civil society, courts and the media in the country which have helped in curbing riots.â€
â€œThere is no need for the bill. It will work to divide the majority and minority communities,â€ BJP leader Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said. Blaming the Congress for using the bill to divert attention, Hussain said: â€œThere is peace and harmony in the country today. The Congress is not able to digest this.â€ Hussain also expressed apprehension on the bill being used against National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states. As current laws were enough to check communal violence, he said priority should be given to legal measures for tackling terrorism.
The sensitive bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2005. It has taken several years for the government to finally act on pushing the bill through the Parliament. Despite the BJP sparing no measure to attack the Congress, the latter is confident that the party will be able to push the bill through the Parliament. Describing the bill as â€œminority appeasement,â€ the BJP is hopeful of consolidating the support of majority communityâ€™s votes. The Congress is sure, according to party leaders, that parties such as Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal together with the Left and Telegu Desam are least likely to side with the BJP on the bill.