Communal Violence Bill Incites Heated Debate

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Heated political debate is brewing between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over Communal Violence Bill cleared recently by National Advisory Council (NAC), led by United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-head Sonia Gandhi. The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Regulations) Bill 2011, if adopted by Parliament, will permit the center to intervene in cases of communal or targeted violence by invoking a provision in article 355 of the Constitution. As per this article, the bill permits the central government to declare any case of communal violence as “internal disturbance” and take actions considered appropriate. The center’s duty, according to article 355, is “to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and ensure the government of every state is carried on in accordance with provisions of this Constitution.” 

Criticizing the proposed bill, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said it would lead to intrusion into states, make the majority community culpable and damage inter-community relations. Countering BJP’s stand, Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “We are shocked at the BJP’s reaction. Firstly, nothing has been finalized. Opinions are being sought from diverse sections. The BJP is trying to further its communal agenda. It is trying to do so by pre-emptive strike and debunking a draft bill under discussion.” He added: “The country knows which political party has communal agenda from its birth, continues to be bound by umbilical chord of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and carries the shame of Gujarat, Karnataka and Babri with ease.” With the party (BJP) being “naturally worried,” it has opted for this “pre-emptive strike,” Singhvi said.

The bill has also been described by the BJP as “dangerous, draconian, discriminatory and damaging to India’s federal policy.”  The Congress has retaliated by saying: “We will fight them to the end on this issue, there won’t be compromises. There will be a huge political cost involved for anybody who sides with the BJP on this issue.”

The Congress is confident that the BJP would be isolated in its opposition to the bill when it is introduced in the Parliament. “The BJP is free to challenge the constitutional validity of the law after it is enacted. Let it be tested in 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,” Singhvi said. The Congress is “determined” to bring the bill in the next session of the Parliament.

Rejecting BJP’s allegation on center’s plan to encroach into states’ domain, Singhvi said that the clause which permits this, also has safeguards. Before intervening, the center would first advise the state, if there was a communal flare-up. The center would wait for action and would intervene only if state’s inaction led the situation to further flare up.

Justifying the need for central intervention in serious cases, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal cited the experience of Gujarat-carnage. Despite nine years having passed by, FIR had not been registered in many cases, Sibal pointed out. A Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by Supreme Court, was still examining the need to lodge an FIR in the Gujarat-cases, which only necessitates the need for central intervention in extraordinary cases, Sibal said.

Demanding explanation on controversial provisions of the bill, which allegedly hold only majority community as responsible for riots, BJP senior leader Ravi Shanker Prasad said: “Tell us clearly, Soniaji- can the majority community in India become victims of communal violence or not?” Dismissing the need for the bill, Prasad said: “We all agree that riots should be prevented. But prevention should not become worse than the disease. There is civil society, courts and the media in the country which have helped in curbing riots.”

“There is no need for the bill. It will work to divide the majority and minority communities,” BJP leader Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said. Blaming the Congress for using the bill to divert attention, Hussain said: “There is peace and harmony in the country today. The Congress is not able to digest this.” Hussain also expressed apprehension on the bill being used against National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states. As current laws were enough to check communal violence, he said priority should be given to legal measures for tackling terrorism.

The sensitive bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2005. It has taken several years for the government to finally act on pushing the bill through the Parliament.  Despite the BJP sparing no measure to attack the Congress, the latter is confident that the party will be able to push the bill through the Parliament.  Describing the bill as “minority appeasement,” the BJP is hopeful of consolidating the support of majority community’s votes. The Congress is sure, according to party leaders, that parties such as Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal together with the Left and Telegu Desam are least likely to side with the BJP on the bill.

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BJP Distances Itself From Anti-Muslim Hindutva

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Ironically, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been forced to deliberate on the political efficacy of the very strategy, which till not too long ago was projected by the party leaders as crucial to attract attention, media coverage and electoral victory. The party has been compelled to question its own approach towards its communal politicking because of its failure to return to power in Lok Sabha polls and also win lesser number of seats than it did in 2004 polls. Not surprisingly, at the party’s two-day National Executive meeting (June 20-21), the party decided to gradually change its political strategy. It was evident by the manner in which several party leaders held Varun Gandhi’s “hate speeches” responsible for the BJP’s defeat. Varun, first time legislator from Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), faces legal trouble for having made highly communal speeches targeting the Muslim community while campaigning.

At the end of the meet, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani said: “At our office-bearers meeting, two eminent colleagues of ours affirmed their faith in Hindutva but cautioned against any narrow, bigoted, anti-Muslim interpretation being put on it.”

During the meeting, Varun’s mother, Maneka Gandhi claimed that her son must not made a “scapegoat” and held responsible for the party’s poor performance. She faced strong criticism from BJP’s Muslim leaders, who hold Varun’s “hate speeches” as responsible for BJP’s defeat. During the “open debate,” when Shahnawaz Hussain expressed his displeasure at constant leakage of party’s internal matters, Maneka interrupted him, sources said. She claimed that Hussain discussed party’s internal matters with media most often. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, another Muslim face of BJP, came to Hussain’s defense saying that Maneka had spoken enough on Saturday. During war of words, Hussain and Naqvi blamed her son’s “hate speeches” for being responsible for party’s poor performance. To control exchange of verbal missiles, BJP president Rajnath Singh intervened and asked Maneka not to speak out of turn.

In BJP Muslim leaders opinion, Varun’s hate speeches led to polarization of votes in UP along religious lines, because of which the party lost several seats. The Muslims in BJP are also angry at Maneka for stating earlier that as Muslims were not BJP’s “core constituency,” her son should not be held responsible for party’s poor performance. Her claim that “Muslims do not vote for BJP” was also refuted by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi and Maharashtra BJP leader Gopinath Munde.

Maneka was apparently the only party member who spoke in defense of Varun, who attended the meeting the first day and stayed away on the second. Distancing itself from Varun’s “hate speeches,” labeled by his critics as “Pilibhit brand of Hindutva,” the party adopted a political resolution with a new emphasis on its approach towards people belonging to other religions. “Theocracy or any form of bigotry is alien to our ethos. Hinduism or, Hindutva is not to be understood or, construed narrowly confined only to religious practices or expressed in extreme forms,” the resolution stated. It emphasized that giving equal treatment to all regardless of their personal faith is integral to Hindutva.

Irrespective of whether Varun’s “hate speeches” were responsible for BJP’s defeat, the poll debacle has certainly forced veteran party leaders to accept that to move ahead politically, the party has no option but to give more importance to Indian secularism. Besides, with Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) reports having confirmed that CDs of “hate speeches” Varun made while campaigning in Pilibhit on March 7 and 8 were “not doctored” only spell greater isolation for him within his own party and political circles. Varun had claimed that CDs of his speeches were “doctored.” Defending her son, Maneka rejected the FSL report. “The entire tape is doctored, words have been interchanged…We will answer and prove in the court that the tapes are doctored,” she said on sidelines of the BJP meeting.

The FSL report, according to Pilibhit police, has paved the way for completion of investigation against Varun. Arrested in Pilibhit on March 28, on charges of making inflammatory communal remarks, Varun was released on bail from jail in Etah district on April 16, after he gave an assurance that he would not make any inflammatory speeches.

Undeniably, going by party leaders’ past record, it would be unfair to hold only and only Varun and his “hate speeches” as responsible for the party’s electoral defeat. As expressed by Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari: “Forensic lab reports have political implications, they have legal implications, and eventually it’s for courts to decide. But the larger political implication is that it has vindicated what this whole country has believed from day one — that Varun Gandhi, when he was uttering those hateful sentences, belittling and reducing the minority, was indeed reflecting the core ideology and the voice which emanates from the soul of the Sangh Parivar.”  Notwithstanding the hard reality that are many in the party who still have to answer for the role they played earlier in fueling communal violence for political gains, the BJP appears to have finally woken up to the strong truth: its communal politicking has little appeal for the Indian voter.

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