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Communal Violence Bill: The Congress gameplan

Last updated on: May 28, 2011 16:02 IST

Communal Violence Bill: The Congress gameplan

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A Correspondent in New Delhi

In a regime dominated by scams, scandals and corruption, the Congress has zeroed in on the Communal Violence Bill as the piece de resistance of UPA II in a bid to shift the focus from its own corruption to taking on the BJP and in the process isolating it from its own allies.

With Bharatiya Janata Party's Arun Jaitley launching a strong attack against the bill, in his exclusive column in rediff.com on the grounds that it goes against the federal structure of the constitution, the Congress has fast tracked its drafting of the bill and has said that it wants to bring in the bill in the monsoon session of Parliament that is expected to begin in mid July.

With the BJP hoping to use the bill to communally polarise the country on the issue, Congress leaders have been quick to respond by saying that the BJP will not be able to play along its planned agenda, and would find the situation of 2011 vastly different from what it was in 1992 (the Babri Masjid demolition).

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Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi

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According to the Congress calculations, the BJP will not be able to whip up a frenzy against the bill and would find it difficult to seek support from its own allies like the Janata Dal-United, if it goes too far on the issue.

The Congress has already begun the task of sounding out political parties on the issue and feels that the numbers in the Rajya Sabha would also not be a problem since the Samajwadi party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal would find it difficult to oppose the strong provisions in the bill.

Even the Left and the Telugu Desam Party would not like to be seen to be with the BJP, which is taking the political line of violating the federal spirit and apprehensions of encroaching upon the state's domain.



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"We will fight them to the end on this issue, there won't be compromises. There will be huge political cost involved for anybody who sides with the BJP on this issue," said a senior Congress leader.

The Bill is at a preparatory stage and the draft suggested by the National Advisory Council will undergo scrutiny at different levels. Even Congress leaders admit there would be a need for fine tuning and the standing committee of Parliament will have a close look at every clause.

But they outright dismiss the BJP's objections, arguing that they were born out of their communal mindset and fears of legal reprisal. The BJP had described the draft as "dangerous, draconian, discriminatory and damaging to India's federal policy."

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said "the BJP is free to challenge the constitutional validity of the law after it is enacted. Let it be tested in the court instead of trying to abort it before its birth on petty and trivial grounds. The BJP's pernicious propaganda is reflective of its communal agenda and guilt complex."



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Singhvi said the Congress was determined to bring the Bill in the next session of Parliament despite the BJP's objections and the attempt to communalise the legislation itself. The BJP had said the Bill was against the interest of the majority.

Singhvi said though it is a focused enactment aimed at inspiring confidence in the minorities and for protecting them from communal violence, he rubbished the idea that it was targeted at Hindus. 

He said, "A party proudly bound by the umbilical chord of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a party that subscribes to the teachings of Golwarkar, a party that takes pride in the Babri mosque demolition and refuses to express regret for Gujarat riots is naturally worried."

He also debunked the BJP's charge of Centre's design to encroach upon the state's territory, saying all but one of the 60 clauses give power to the state while even the clause 55, which allows the Centre to intervene has safeguards.



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The Centre will first advise the state in the case of a communal flare-up, wait for the action and intervene only if the state's inaction escalates violence. 

Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal said the Gujarat experience, where even an FIR had not been registered in many cases and the Supreme Court appointed SIT was examining after nine years if an FIR has to be lodged or not, there is a strong case for central intervention in extraordinary cases.

"We want a mechanism to ensure that the state and the administration are held accountable in case of mass killing," he said.

While the promise to bring the Communal Violence Bill was made in the 2004 manifesto, the Congress failed to bring it in UPA I primarily because of the stiff opposition to it. But sources in the party say that with elections in UP slated for next year, the Congress would like to make this bill the centre-piece of governance agenda and send out the signal that the government would in future bring to book any leaders who targeted a community for votes and is also a strong message against communal violence and giving a sense of security to the minorities.



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