Ill-conceived move

The Congress-led UPA government’s ham-handed effort to foist an ill-conceived communal violence bill has almost come unstuck. Discussions at the National Integration Council meeting last week on the proposed bill show that in its present form it will not be acceptable to many states and political parties.

There was strong opposition to and a large divergence of views on the provisions of the draft bill and these were voiced by parties other than those in the opposition also. The bill was drafted by the National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi and has been on the agenda on the UPA government for a long time. It seeks to deal with communal violence as a category of offence separate from other social crimes. Even this idea is opposed by many because there are enough laws on the statute book which can deal with communal violence.

The bill is an amended version of a bill which was introduced in parliament in 2006. That bill was considered inadequate and was withdrawn. The present bill is seen as going to another extreme. The main objections to the bill are that it encroaches into the domain of the powers of states which have the main responsibility to maintain law and order and that it divides citizens into categories.

It provides for the creation of a unified command under the Centre to deal with communal violence and gives the Centre special powers of intervention and declare some areas as disturbed areas. The view that this may go against the federal idea cannot be dismissed altogether. It is also not right to assume that numerically preponderant groups—religious, caste or linguistic—should take the blame for all communal disturbances.

Communal violence has social, political and economic dimensions. It is often not a solely law and order issue and cannot by tackled only by legislation. The UPA’s proposed bill has been opposed by even the Trinamool Congress, which is a partner in government.

Chief ministers like Naveen Patnaik of Orissa, J Jayalalitha of Tamil Nadu and Nitish Kumar of Bihar have also objected to the bill as it “directly affects the powers of states and bypasses state governments.” Parties like the CPM and the RJD are also not happy with some provisions. Instead of looking for a ‘political agenda’ to revive its fortunes, the UPA government should seriously consider economic policy issues which will have much more bearing on the lives of the people.

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