NEW DELHI: Confrontation is brewing between BJP and the government over the proposed bill to check and punish communal violence with the main Opposition sharply attacking it for "presuming" such strife is always the handiwork of the majority community.
Saying the bill's provisions will damage inter-community relations and erode the federal structure, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said, "The draft bill argues that communal trouble is created only by members of the majority community and never by a member of the minority community. Identical offences committed by minority groups against the majority are not deemed offences at all."
The bill if passed with directly intrude into the domain of the state, damage federal polity and create an imbalance in the inter-community relationship of India, the BJP leader said.
Jaitley targeted the bill's definition of a 'group' as a religious or linguistic minority who could also be scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. This sets one community as the perpetual victim and is bound to increase tensions even in cases where a dispute can be easily resolved.
With the bill backed by the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council often viewed in the context of "state complicity" in the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, BJP returned to a Hindutva issue after a gap. Not mincing words, Jaitley said, "The drafting of this bill appears to be a handiwork of those social entrepreneurs who have learnt from the Gujarat experience of how to fix senior leaders even when they are not liable for an offence."
By stating that these offences are in addition to those under the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, Jaitley asked if a person can be punished twice for the same offence. The clauses prescribe defining crimes like sexual assault, 'hate propaganda' and targeted communal violence on the basis of the victim's "group" identity as a minority.
Similarly, a public servant is liable for actions or lack of supervision in dealing with a communal situation on the "principle of vicarious liability", the BJP leader said. "Clause 16 renders orders of superiors as no defence for an alleged offence committed under this section," he said.
Jaitley has argued that offences committed during communal trouble are a law and order problem that is squarely the domain of state governments. In the division of powers, the Centre does not have direct authority to deal with law and order issues. Under the bill, the Centre will usurp jurisdiction of the states.
Further, the bill provides for a seven-member national authority for communal harmony, justice and reparations of which at least four including the chairman and vice-chair shall only belong to a 'group' or minority community, Jaitley said.
"It is a law that is bound to be misused. Perhaps, that appears to be the real purpose behind its drafting. It will encourage minority communalism," said Jaitley.