The anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka and terrorism today dominated proceedings of the National Integration Council (NIC) chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who said this "mindless violence" would be met with "requisite amount of force" tempered by justice.
"...Violence seems to be permeating society today, across the length and breadth of our country -- whether it be terrorist violence, whether it is violence with an ideological veneer such as that adopted by the Left-wing extremists, or communal violence," Singh said inaugurating the day-long meeting of the Council.
Meeting after a gap of three years, the 146-member Council comprising Union Ministers, all the Chief Ministers, leaders of national and regional political parties and eminent personalities, saw many participants demanding stringent action against outfits like Bajrang Dal and VHP which have been blamed for anti-Christian violence.
However, Chief Ministers and leaders belonging to BJP strongly defended their governments against criticism of the violence against Christians and described Bajrang Dal and VHP as "nationalist force".
The meeting also saw some leaders demanding a judicial inquiry into the Jamia Nagar encounter in Delhi, a demand BJP felt would demoralise security forces.
In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister said perhaps the most disturbing and dangerous aspect today was the "assault" on the country's composite culture.
"Recent tragic events in Orissa, Karnataka and Assam have pained all right-thinking persons. There are clashes between Hindus, Christians, Muslims and tribal groups. An atmosphere of hatred and violence is being artificially generated," he said.
Singh said there were forces deliberately encouraging such tendencies and spawning militant outfits which need to be firmly dealt with.
On terrorism, he said there can be no compromise and terrorists have to be dealt with firmly.
"At the same time, it is important that in trying to counter terrorism, wrong methods and means are not adopted. Any impression that any community or sections amongst them are being targeted or that some kind of profiling is being attempted should be avoided. This is vital, as otherwise it could lead to a major polarisation in the society," he said.
Against a strong demand from within the UPA for banning Bajrang Dal and VHP, blamed for anti-Christian violence, and imposition of President's rule in Orissa, the Prime Minister appeared to reflect his dilemma on the issue.
"There has been considerable debate in our country on how to handle these issues of sectarian and communal violence. There cannot be two views on the fact that such attempts must be thwarted with the full power of the State that is intent on protecting its democratic foundations.
Singh said those who threatened communal harmony, integrity and peaceful co-existence deserve very deterrent punishment.
"In doing so, we need to be bound by the framework of our Constitution and the political democratic process that enables us to reconcile differences through dialogue. We should not be provoked to suspend or subvert a democratic process in the search for solutions," he said.
The Prime Minister said democracy has a special onus in that it has to ensure protection of civil liberties even as it seeks to enforce law and order. It has also to be done in a manner that respects the constitutional bounds of a federal polity.
Participating in the deliberations, CPI leader A B Bardhan said government expresses its lofty sentiments which are not followed by deeds. He wanted a judicial inquiry into the Jamia Nagar's Batla House encounter and felt the Muslim community has a sense of alienation.
Bardhan asked why Article 355 has not been invoked in Orissa and the state not told to run in accordance with the Constitution.
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury wondered why action has not been taken against Bajrang Dal under the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act and Article 355 not invoked in Orissa.
Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh pressed for a judicial inquiry into the Delhi encounter and warned that 20 crore Muslims should not be isolated. If there was proof, he was not against action against SIMI.
Making an impassioned speech, eminent jurist Fali S Nariman said bans will not serve any purpose. There are enough laws to prosecute people and those should be invoked.
"If anybody should be banned, it should be intolerance. But how will you ban intolerance," he asked.
BJP President Rajnath Singh opposed sending of any advisories to Orissa and Karnataka under Article 355, saying it would be discriminatory to do so because communal violence was taking place in other states also.
BJP Chief Ministers of Gujarat, Karnataka and Uttarakhand raked up the issue of terrorism and demanded tough laws to deal with the menace.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has been leading a campaign for strong anti-terror laws, sought to focus on the subject. He accused the UPA government of skipping "biggest enemy" of the country for "vote-bank politics", questioning why it was not included in the agenda.
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik sought to project the violence against Christians in his state as a manifestation of "conflict of interest" between Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, whose state also witnessed violence against Christians, accused certain Christian organisations of creating "disharmony and social tension".