Political parties to keep the pot of communal violence bill boiling

With intense political pressure mounting within and outside UPA on the present structure of the Communal Violence Bill, the government has admitted that the bill has some lacunae and needs to be re-drafted to make it acceptable to one and all. The Communal violence bill would only serve the purpose if it can protect and address the problem of those generally affected by communal violence, otherwise it too may end up like just another  law good enough for tokenism, only to appease one or the other community.

The bill has been envisaged to safeguard minorities but there are apprehensions that towards the end it may end up appeasing the majority. If we go by the history of communal violence in India the reality is that the Muslims in particular and minorities in general have been the prime victim of communal and targeted violence. In the past decades communal violence like Sikh riots of 1984, Gujarat riots of 2002, Mumbai riots of 1993, Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and the recent Kandhamal violence are some examples of atrocities committed against the minorities. In India the history to trace communal violence has been recorded over Babri Masjid since 1856. Thereafter, the Britishers with their policy of divide and rule sowed the seed of hatred along communal lines that resulted in the partition of the country. Pre-and post-Partition violence killed more than two lakh people in our country. Independent India has witnessed thousands of big and small communal violence incidents. 

The grim reality of communal violence is that in a majority of communal violence cases police arrest many more people from the minority as compared to the majority community. In general the number of dead and the injured from the minority community happens to be far greater as compared to other community. Initially, communal violence bill was looked upon as a mechanism to curb this institutional bias against the minority community. But before it could become a reality it is again mired in controversy. After protest from political parties, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress spokesman has admitted that the present structure of the bill has lacunae such as no political parties would agree to the idea of the Centre interfering in its law and order situation as being formulated in the bill. The idea and the structure of the communal violence bill was primarily nurtured keeping in mind the need to put an end to any repeat of the Gujarat pogrom. Now the big question: can this be achieved without the intervention of the Centre in a situation similar to that of Gujarat in the near future. Can we prevent any major riot after the bill is redrafted? The government can satisfy political parties by redrafting but will it be of any use for those who generally bear the burnt of the riots. 

The government has shown some signs of willingness to re-draft the communal violence bill only after its allies like Trinamool Congress opposed the bill in its present form. By doing so the government only tends to fulfil its coalition Dharma. Opposition to the Bill by the Trinamool Congress has surprised not only the Congress but the government as well. Surprisingly Mamata Banerjee has opposed the communal violence bill at a time when she was trying to reach out to the Muslim Community leaders to know their problems in order to address their issues and concerns. The UPA ally Trinamool Congress has opposed the bill without citing any specific reason. West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra who participated in the NIC meet in the absence of chief minister Mamta Banerjee only said the Bill in its present form was not acceptable to them.

Communal Violence Bill was criticised during the National Integration Council meet on 10 September in New Delhi and chief ministers from Gujarat, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal abstained from the meet.  Regional parties are apprehensive that in the present form of the Communal violence bill it would guarantee the Centre a license to step into the state’s bastion which they claim to be anti federal in nature. Regional parties are worried because the bill may allow the Central government to intervene in cases of communal violence under Article 355 of the Constitution which says that it becomes the duty of the Centre to protect states from internal disorder and disruption of law and order. The real problem as mentioned by Abdul Khaliq of the Lok Janshakti Party in his article in the Indian Express on 14 August is that when the existing laws are flouted with impunity, there is no purpose in framing another act that depends, for its success, on those very agencies that have failed to deliver justice in the past. Social activist Asghar Ali Engineer strongly favoured the Communal Violence Bill in its present structure while pointing towards riots in Gujarat.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2011 on page no. 12

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