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Communal violence Bill crucial

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Political blame game apart, the Muzaffarnagar riots should shake the Centre from its slumber. Two issues warrant immediate attention for the passage...

Is the Samajwadi Party shuffling two cards at the same time, making both the minority and majority feel insecure?

Syed Ali Mujtaba

Political blame game apart, the Muzaffarnagar riots should shake the Centre from its slumber. Two issues warrant immediate attention for the passage of the languishing Communal Violence Bill: Can India, which is slipping closer to the ‘Hindu rate of growth’ afford the burden of communal riots and internal turmoil and further slow down its economic progress? Second, can identity politics that’s so vigorously pursued be allowed to gallop, inviting the tag of India being a ‘moving anarchy?’

The riots are a wake-up call for both Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi. Though tension was brewing in Muzaffarnagar, precious little was done. In the process 38 lives have been lost since the riots erupted on Saturday last. While the ruling Samajwadi Party has sought to pass the buck by claiming “mischief” by the BJP, it has no explanation to offer why the administration did not stop the Mahapanchayat from taking place.

The riots clearly point to the slackness of the State administration, unable to keep communal forces in check. The building communal tension was no secret and was aggravated by the Mahapanchayat, where fiery speeches were made. What was the necessity to give permission for such a meeting in the backdrop of prevailing tension? Is the Samajwadi Party shuffling two cards at the same time, making both the minority and majority feel insecure?

On its part, the Centre claims to have warned the State two days before the mayhem, but chose not to act swiftly to control the situation. Its reasoning that it couldn’t under the present circumstances may well be taken but surely that’s not enough. Perhaps, if the Communal Violence Bill had been in place, the Central Government would have had no need to offer any explanation. It could have intervened and many lives would have been saved.

The clashes in Muzaffarnagar also suggest that differences between individuals are not the cause, but that identity of caste and religion gets activated in no time leading to communal riots. Can India afford such a development if it seeks to drive on the growth curb? If not, then there is an urgent need to take steps to ensure peace in the country.

The Communal Violence Bill announced by the UPA Government in May 2004, soon after coming to power, was a revolutionary call. It aimed to halt a repeat of the 2002 post Godhra riots in Gujarat, and give a sense of relief to the minority community. However, somewhere down the line, the plot seems to have been lost. The Government has more reasons to pilot other Bills than make efforts to see through the Communal Violence Bill become an Act. As a result, the Bill has been gathering dust for the past nine years.

Worse, in the wake of the recent riots, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde seems to have forewarned that the communal situation in the country may deteriorate ahead of General Elections 2014, as political parties could indulge in such acts. He, however, maintained a stoic silence on how the situation could be contained. Besides, there seems to be a total memory loss about the Communal Violence Bill hanging fire.

It’s an irony indeed that consensus on this Bill continues to elude the polity. The result is the Union government is shying away to use its residual power to prevail upon State Governments in the wake of communal riots. As of now, the Centre cannot interfere in the affairs of the provinces and can only appeal to the State government to control the situation. But had the Bill been in place, it would have had the powers to intervene given the breakdown of law and order in the State. Regrettably, there are two contentious issues holding back the Bill. First, 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 and such forces can act independently or it has to do at the request of the State government and act under its command?

Opinion seems to be divided on both the issues and is cited as the reason for keeping the Bill in abeyance. Notwithstanding the rights of the States, the fact remains that in the name of State autonomy and its exclusive right over 'law and order', the Centre cannot remain a silent spectator to instances of communal orgy taking place in several States, time and again.

The 2002 Gujarat riots that warranted the Bill have lived up to its reputation. Communal riots are happening in the country with impunity. Sadly, State governments have repeatedly failed to control the situation. In such cases, what stops the Centre from acting? Is it a bankruptcy of ideas or a deliberate design to keep the communal pot boiling? As happens after every riot, motives are attributed to the events and the blame game circulates. The fact remains, in all such situations, it is innocent people who lose their lives.

A cursory look at the history of all the communal riots in the country suggests that Muzaffarnagar riot was not an isolated event. In the larger picture of communal attacks carried out intermittently in the country, it tells a similar story, as others. Communal violence invariably flares up around skirmishes among religious communities and the State administration allows it to escalate. One community then goes on the rampage unleashing an orgy of death and mayhem.

When enough damage is done and media pressure becomes unmanageable, the authorities get their act together and swing into action to control the situation. In the case of Muzaffarnagar, this is exactly what happened. Here the naked vote bank politics for consolidating the majority and minority vote banks was at its lethal display.

Since the past 67 years, this has been the pet theme of communal politics in India. The negative politics of hate is a tried and tested formula. First, create a sharp polarization in society, and then ride on the insecurity wave of the communities. It happens each time. In this game, the Congress and the BJP are outwitting each other at several places. In Uttar Pradesh it’s the Samajwadi Party and the BJP currently battling it out.

Since communalism is one of the many tools on which politics centers in India, no political party wants to eliminate it. Some may talk about banishing it from the society, but in their hearts they know they can use it for electoral gains. The Muzaffarnagar riots have sent yet another warning before 2014 elections. If future communal riots have to be controlled, then the Communal Violence Bill must be brought forth, at the first opportunity. Any further waste of time would be an invitation for another saga of communal riot somewhere else in the country. -INFA

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