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Implement The Commitment: DELAY IN Communal Violence Bill, by Dr. Syed Ali Mujtaba,29 June 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 29 June 2006

 Implement The Commitment

DELAY IN Communal Violence Bill

By Dr. Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Communal Violence Bill announced by the UPA Government soon after coming to power in May 2004, seems to be gathering dust. The Government seems to have more reasons to pilot the Office of Profit and the Reservation bills than make efforts to stop the cancerous growth of communalism in the country. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Shivraj Patil both made separate statements in Parliament on the communal situation in the country and took credit of keeping it under check. However, both maintained a stoic silence over the timeframe for tabling the Communal Violence Bill in Parliament.

Meantime, two communal riots, one in Aligarh (UP) in April last and the other in Vadodra (Gujarat) in May, reiterated the necessity of the bill. The bill is supposed to give powers to the Union Government to intervene in the wake of a breakdown of the communal situation. As of now, the Centre cannot interfere in the affairs of the States and can only appeal it to control the situation. 

Take the Aligarh incident, where once again the dispute centred on places of worship. Every year the matter comes to boil there during Hindu festivals with Muslims objecting to the use of the blaring loudspeakers in the temple that disturbs their prayers in the adjacent mosque. As in the past, the tension this time too was building up for some time and exploded with instances of stone throwing, looting and arson. This was retaliated through police firing, killing eight people.

The Minorities Commission’s fact-finding team found that the police did not comply with the rulebook and fired above the waist as all the shots hit the victims directly on the upper parts of the body, suggesting its intention was to kill.

The IG Police (Kanpur range) who headed the Departmental inquiry reportedly calls it a case of police high-handedness in his report. He says, sufficient evidence is there to prove that the situation could have been brought under control without the police firing, if the administration acted with a little intelligence and responsibility.

Aligarh echoed in Vadodara a month later where five people were killed in the police firing. Here again the issue centred on a religious structure claimed as encroachment on road by the Vadodra Municipal Corporation, even though, the first survey carried out in 1912 by the then ruler of Baroda, Sayajirao Maharaj mention that the Muslim shrine was in existence for at least 200 years and its daily light (diya) and expenditure were borne by the Hindus.

Unless motives are attributed to its act, it does not stand to reason why the Vadodra Corporation paid scant regard to the ancient place of worship and showed unnecessary haste in its demolition. The shrine was termed as ‘mini Babari masjid’ and was a target of attack at every communal riot that took place in the city since 1969.

Muslim residents of the area that resisted the demolition were hit with police bullets leaving five of them dead and scores injured. A day after the demolition, a Muslim youth was burnt alive in his car by a fanatical Hindu mob. 

The Supreme Court injunction ordered swift action by the Union Government to control the situation; otherwise the Vadodra incident had all the trappings of the post-Godhra communal genocide of 2002. 

Both in Aligarh and Vadodra, it is ominous that the fatalities could have been avoided if the local administration tactfully handled the situation.

A cursory look at the history of the communal riots in the country suggests that Aligarh and Vadodra are not isolated events but part of the larger picture of the communal programme that is being carried out intermittently.

Riots after riots have similar story to tell. The communal violence invariably flares up around religious centres; the State administration allows it to escalate. The extremists then go on the prowl, unleashing an orgy of death and mayhem in connivance with the local administration. When enough damage is done and media pressure becomes unmanageable, the authorities put their act together to control the situation.

The naked vote bank politics of consolidating the vote of the majority at the expense of destruction of the minority is the pet theme for the last sixty years or so in India. This is a tried and tested formula in Indian politics to first create a sharp division in the society and then ride on the insecurity wave to romp home to power. The Congress or the BJP both are two sides of the same coin, so goes the saying. 

Since communalism is one of the many tools on which politics centres in India, no political party wants to get this eliminated altogether. Some may talk about its banishment from the society but those who see it as a holy cow of the electoral politics, want the communal pot to be kept boiling.

It was a revolutionary call of many sorts when the UPA Government announced that it was going to bring the communal Violence Bill to stop the repeat of Gujarat. The promise held credibility because the Left which is supporting the Government too showed keenness to put a lid over this recurring crime. However, the UPA Government having completed two years in office but still not keen on bringing the Communal Violence Bill, give rise to the suspicion that it may be another case of an empty promise made for electoral gains.

However, if the Government sources are to be believed, it is not the real case. The Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Home Ministry is currently discussing the Bill. The discussions are centering around two contentious issues; can a communal situation in a state be dealt with by the Central Government without encroaching upon the state’s rights of maintaining law and order? Second, can the deployment of Central forces be done independently or at the request of the State Government and, in any case, can such forces act independently or act under the command of the State Government?

Notwithstanding the rights of the States to be encroached upon, the fact remains that in the name of State autonomy and exclusive right over 'law and order', the Central Government cannot remain a spectator to the instances of communal violence taking place in a State.

Irrespective, of the delay in the Bill, the Central Government should immediately bring out a statutory order that it would have the exclusive right to intervene in the event of communal situation, and punish those who have been behind this heinous crime.  It is time for the UPA Government to implement the promises made. Further waste of time would be an invitation to another Aligarh or Vadodra to take place. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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