New Delhi: The Central government on Saturday faced strong criticism over its Communal Violence Bill, with the Trinamool Congress joining the BJP, the AIADMK and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in expressing reservations and Chief Ministers of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states terming the draft legislation 'dangerous'.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was taken by surprise at the National Integration Council (NIC) meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here, where the draft legislation  came up for discussion.

The proposed law seeks to hold state government functionaries responsible for communal violence and attacks on minorities and paves way for the central government to intervene during communal flare-ups.

Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi told reporters that West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, who represented the state at the NIC meeting, opposed the provisions of the bill.

Trivedi, however, did not give the details of the provisions to which his party, led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is opposed.

If that was not surprise enough, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, who heads the BSP, accused the government of not giving state governments a draft of the proposed legislation. She, in fact, stayed away from the NIC meeting.

“It is important to tell that the centre has not sent the proposed communal violence bill to the state government. Hence it is not the opportune moment to comment on the bill,” Mayawati said in a written speech read out on her behalf at the meeting.

The draft bill, prepared by the National Advisory Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seeks to protect 'groups' from communal violence and harm, describing 'religious and linguistic minority, in any state in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes' as victims.

The BJP's Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, the leaders of opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha respectively, too expressed their opposition to the bill.

The BJP has alleged that the bill was prepared with the 'Gujarat experience' as the subtext. It has rejected the draft bill, saying it is based on the 'presumption that communal trouble is created only by members of the majority community and never by a member of the minority community'.

BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh's Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan contended that the bill may encourage intolerance and harm federalism. “The bill expresses feeling of mistrust in the state government machinery and lacks clarity in defining crimes for organised communal violence,” Chouhan said at the meeting.

His party colleague and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh also said the draft bill will harm the federal structure of the country.
“The proposed bill has many structural loopholes. The biggest problem is that this bill is against India's federal structure. The national authority set up with the help of this bill will have the power to issue directions to any state authority for any investigation,” he said.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi too kept away from the NIC meeting, to register his opposition to the communal violence bill and to state Governor Kamla Beniwal appointing the Lokayukta without consulting his government.

The BJP's ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) too is against the communal violence bill. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal of SAD, whose speech was read out in his absence at the NIC meeting, said: 'A reality check is required for the bill on communal violence bill, which the government of India is seeking to bring in. The bill can lead to avoidable confrontation between the centre and the states.'

Tamil Nadu's ruling party AIADMK, led by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, too has opposed the bill, claiming it infringed upon the state's powers and was against the spirit of the federal structure of India's Constitution.

Tamil Nadu went unrepresented at the NIC meeting, as the state assembly is in session.

CPM asks parties to shun communal politics

Favouring a law to curb communal violence, the CPI(M) appealed to political parties to
avoid "all forms of communal politics" saying there was a "direct link" between communalism and terrorism in India.

Noting that the secular nature of the polity was getting eroded due to communal mobilisation, top party leader Prakash Karat said while religious extremism fuelled terrorist violence particularly in cases of some Muslim extremist groups, the politics "sought to be given the garb of nationalism is nothing but majority communalism".

"Minority communalism also mirrors this approach and weakens secularism," the CPI(M) general secretary said at the 15th meeting of the National Integration Council here.

"Till political parties eschew all forms of communal politics, the problem of communalism will remain," he said, adding that terrorism could be successfully combated "only when communalism and religious extremism are firmly checked."

Stressing the need for a legislation on communal violence, he said it should give teeth to the administrative and legal measures that have to be taken to curb communal violence and ensure speedy punishment for the perpetrators.

However, the law should be in keeping with the federal principle wherein the state governments have the primary responsibility for maintenance of law and order and policing.