Electoral gimmick

The  UPA government’s move to resurrect the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill will not be seen as a sign of commitment to ensure communal peace and harmony but as a pre-election gimmick to secure the goodwill of minorities.

The bill has been in cold storage for many years. It was withdrawn after introduction in Parliament in 2006 and was again sought to be moved two years ago. But even the amended bill did not pass muster with most political parties and state governments, as there  were concerns about the merit of some of its provisions and also about the scope of the bill. It was originally drafted by the National Advisory Council and sought to deal with communal violence as a category different from other crimes.  This is true to an extent but the need for fresh legislation was questioned because there are already many laws which can effectively deal with communal situations. The problem mainly lies in implementation.

The main point of criticism of the bill is that it is against the federal division of powers and encroaches into the domain of powers of the states. Law and order is a state subject  but the bill gives overriding powers to the Centre to  intervene in states. It provides for setting up a unified central command for this purpose. This power can be misused for political ends and so the states have vehemently opposed it.  Its constitutionality may also be challenged on this ground. The bill also provides to divide  the community into majority and minority  groups with the district  as the basis and seeks to hold the majority group responsible for communal violence. This assumption is also questionable and may not help in assessing and handling communal situations correctly.

The recent communal violence in Muzaffarnagar in UP may be cited as the immediate reason to bring  the bill back into reckoning.  It  is likely  to be introduced in parliament in the coming winter session. But it is certain that it will not be passed as most parties have opposed it. Even the left parties are against some of its provisions. But the government’s cynical intention may only be to be seen as introducing the bill as it might give it a campaign issue before the elections.  Communal violence is not just a law and order issue to be tackled by legislation. What is needed most to deal with it effectively is political will.

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