Beefing up current laws will help combat communal violence

It is quite clear now. The Congress is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that there is enough momentum to push for the communal violence Bill in the winter session of Parliament. And obviously, this is with an eye to reaping some political benefit out of it.

At a rally in Churu, Rajasthan, on Wednesday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi attacked the BJP saying that the party was attempting to spread communal violence. Though he did not mention the Bill directly, the implication was obvious. On its part, the BJP sees the Bill as a Congress strategy of playing communal politics ahead of the assembly polls.

In this spat between the two big parties, what is being missed is a cogent debate on the Bill, which has been hanging fire for five years. What needs to be discussed is whether legislation is the only answer to stopping riots or does it lie in the better implementation of present laws, improved policing system and a strong political will to douse any sparks.

Riots should not be seen only through a political prism and their solutions should not be sought only within the political matrix.

In The Colours of Violence, Sudhir Kakar argues that the social identity of every Indian is grounded in religious identifications and communalism from early childhood. Together these bring about deep-set psychological anxieties and animosities towards the other. So legislation alone is not a silver bullet, there is a need to tackle much more deep-seated insecurities.

The Bill itself has been criticised by officials of the ministry that is handling it (home) and the law ministry. They have objected to certain clauses of the Bill, including the responsibility of bureaucrats if communal violence erupts.

Many states have also criticised the plan of setting up the National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation, calling it a ‘supervisory body’. In a federal structure like we have in India such bodies can often be irritants between the state and the Centre.

In an analysis of the Bill, PRS Legislative says that while the Bill makes it lawful for the states to take all measures necessary to control riots, these could lead to the implementation of measures that are illegal. The Bill says that competent authorities appointed by the state government and district magistrates have been given the same powers.

This could lead to dual authority — a dangerous development during a riot. As in cricket, in politics too, timing is the key. And it seems that by passing the Bill before the general elections, the Congress wants to ensure a winning score.

Riots should not be seen only through a political prism and their solutions should not be sought only within the political matrix.


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