Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time to bring Communal Violence Bill

Time to bring Communal Violence Bill
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Communal Violence Bill announced by the UPA government soon after coming to power in May 2004 seem be gathering dust. The incumbent government has more reasons to pilot the office of profit and the reservation bill 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 the Parliament on the communal situation in the country and took credit of keeping communalism under check. However, both maintained a stoic silence over the time frame of tabling the communal violence bill in the Parliament.

Meantime, two riots one in Aligarh (UP) in April and other Vadodra (Gujarat) in May, reiterated the necessity of communal bill. The bill is suppose to give powers to the central government to intervene into the states in wake of a break down of the communal situation. As of now, the Center cannot interfere in the affairs of the provinces and can only appeal it to control the situation.

Take the instance of the Aligarh, where once again the dispute centered on places of worship erupted. Every year the matter comes to boil there during Hindu festivals with Muslims objecting to the use of the blaring loudspeakers used in the temple that disturbs their payers in the adjacent mosque.

As in the past, the tension this time too was building for some time and exploded with instances of stone throwing, looting and arson. This was retaliated through police firing killing eight people most of them Muslims.

The Minorities Commission fact-finding team that investigated the incident found that the police did not comply the rulebooks 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.

IG Police (Kanpur range) who headed the departmental inquiry too 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.

The echoes Aligarh was heard in Vadodara a month later where five people were killed in the police firing. Here again the issue centered on a religious structure claimed as encroachment on road by the Vadodra Municipal Corporation.

However, the first survey carried out in 1912 by 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 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 Vadodra since 1969.

Ghani Qureshi, a prominent BJP Muslim leader of Vadodara corroborates this view. "The demolition of the shrine was a very well-planned conspiracy. The municipal corporation authorities had promised us that it would not be demolished. We were working upon a compromise formula but they backed out and simply razed it to the ground."

Muslims 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.

It was Supreme Court injunction that ordered swift action by the central government to control the situation; otherwise the Vadodra incident had all the trappings of the post Gondra state-sponsored communal genocide of 2002.

Both in Aligarh and Vadodra, it’s ominous that the fatalities could have been avoided if the local administration tactfully handled the situation. However, in the two cases tend to suggest that it was a well thought out plan to carry out a state sponsored communal program against the unarmed protesters.

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

Riots after riots has similar story to tell. The communal violence invariably flares up around religious centers; the state administration allows it to escalate. The extremists then go on the prowl unleashing an orgy of death and mayhem in connivance of the local administration. When enough damage is done and media pressure becomes unmanageable, the authorities put then 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 since 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. Congress or BJP both are two sides of the same coin, so goes the saying.

Since communalism is one of the many tools on which politics centers around 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 is a holy cow of the electoral politics, want the communal pot to be kept burning.

It was a revolutionary call in many sorts, when the UPA government announced that it going to bring communal violence bill to stop the repeat of 2002 Gujarat. The promise held credibility because left that’s 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’s 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 do they 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 provinces exclusive right over 'law and order', the central government cannot remain a specter 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 event of communal situation, and punish those who have been behind this heinous crime.

Its time for the UPA government to deliver the promises made. Further waste of time would be an invitation for another Aligarh or Vadodra to take place.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

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