If nothing else, the ferocity and partisan attitude of the police force during the recent communal violence in Gopalgadh area in Mewat region of Rajasthan stresses the urgency to put in place an effective legislation against communal violence. It is indeed regrettable that the proposed Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparation) Bill, 2011 has been shot down by several state governments. Infringement of powers of states within a federal structure and fear of undue intervention by the Central Government within jurisdiction of States has ostensibly stalled the progress of the Bill through the houses. Although major opposition rose from States being ruled by the NDA, non-NDA governments too have raised objections.
History of communal riots and targeted violence against groups bears testimony that mayhem in majority of these cases has always been premeditated and Centre’s hands have always been tied against firm action. It is mainly because all such actions are likely to turn into accusation of interference against State governments, more so in a polyglot polity in evidence since the end of 1990s. Riots, as is seen all this while, are normally the culmination of sustained poisonous propaganda, deliberate sowing of hatred, overplay of identity-related issues and fomenting communal friction with an intention to light the communal fuse. Few of them have had the element of spontaneity. To this extent, the Bill was on right track. It was accurate in identifying the vested interests in promotion and persistence of communal virus in body politics of the nation. No wonder then why NDA State Governments were vociferous in their attempt to stall the bill. Curiously, the NDA has chosen the issue of drafting committee i.e., the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi National Advisory Council (NAC), to be the major ground for its rejection, dubbing the Council an extra-Constitutional body. It is a grotesque irony. The same NDA did not see any qualms in forcing the similarly ‘extra-Constitutional Anti-Corruption Bill’ down the throat of the Parliament only last August.
However, the objections do have some substance when it comes to federal structures and a fresh look, should hopefully, address the fears of states.
The Bill has indeed several bright features. It deems the occurrence of such violence as internal disturbance, provides for formation of a central authority for communal harmony with sweeping powers to requisition officers and information from every level of administration and even non-state actors, conferment of powers of a civil court on such an authority, and fixes compensation for death and rape of victims of communal violence. Wish-list of the potential victims of targeted violence could have been longer and one could have hoped for inclusion of checks on hate campaign too. But for the time being, the Bill would have been sufficient to nip the violence in its physical form, in the bud.
With India emerging on the world map as a major economic player, peace and harmony among its bewilderingly diverse people and communities, would be a prerequisite to be recognized as a major power. Violence in any form should not continue to smudge its copybook as it has done during the last 20 years which have seen phenomenal economic progress despite disruptive effect of the divisive nature of the violence. Elimination of violence and distributive justice in economic sphere would be the twin pillars around which the nation can hope to rise in the estimation of the comity of nations.