This piece is being written in the hope that by the time you read it, the BJP will not have changed its mind on the communal violence Bill. I say this because past experience shows us that the BJP’s senior leaders are very good at stalling Parliament with a lot of sound and fury for a day or so and then quietly letting pass every new piece of dodgy legislation that Sonia Gandhi puts before them. If they do exactly the same with this new law, then they will be doing India an unforgivable disservice.
The law was hatched by Sonia’s gang of jholawala do-gooders in her National Advisory Council (NAC) without serious thought being given to its consequences. So, if you get an autocratic, authoritarian prime minister after the 2014 general election, he will have licence to topple state governments on all kinds of specious grounds. Akhilesh Yadav would have been a goner after his abysmal performance during and after the violence in Muzaffarnagar. But the law’s ability to be misused is only part of the problem. The real problem is that it is completely unnecessary because, under present laws, communal violence can be stopped if political leaders want it stopped and officials who fail to stop it can be punished. If this has not happened in the past, it is only because political leaders did not want it to happen.
How else can we explain that the Hindu population of Kashmir was ethnically cleansed when the state was under direct rule from Delhi? When governor Jagmohan failed to provide them with the security they needed at the time, why was he not punished? When more than 3,000 Sikhs were butchered in the streets of Delhi in 1984, was a single official punished for criminal dereliction of duty? When uniformed thugs from the Provincial Armed Constabulary opened fire on Muslims in their custody in a truck near Meerut in 1987, was anyone punished? Of course not. But not because India’s laws do not have provisions to prevent these things from happening.
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Derelict officials have got away with their evil deeds only because they have been protected by political leaders, who have used violence and mass murder as weapons to keep vulnerable communities in their toils. In the case of the Muslim community, this strategy worked so well that till the Babri Masjid was destroyed under a Congress prime minister, they always voted for the Congress. Their faith was shaken after that ugly episode but the ‘secular’ parties which began to woo them used Congress methods to continue to keep Muslims in their toils. The BJP bogeyman was resurrected every time they showed signs of wavering in their loyalties, and it is the BJP bogeyman from Gujarat that is now making the Congress seek new ways to restore its Muslim vote bank.
The newest of these ways is this communal violence Bill. It has been devised by Sonia’s advisors with the specific intention of showing Muslims how much Madame cares for her Muslim subjects. Some of these advisors, incidentally, have made extremely lucrative careers out of expressing sympathy for victims of communal violence. Huge funds have come from foreign donors to set up NGOs that supposedly take care of these victims. And who cares if it’s only tokenism? After the Assam riots, an NGO showed up with victims from Gujarat to comfort the new victims. An utterly bizarre exercise if you keep in mind that they would not have had even a language in common.
As someone who has been constant in my opposition to the NAC on the grounds that it is an extra-constitutional body, may I say that my opposition has deepened on account of the laws that it has imposed on us. Not one of them has been worthwhile and the BJP should be ashamed of itself for having happily gone along with passing them after the token amount of sound and fury. If this is what happens once more with this insidious new piece of legislation, then it does not deserve to ever come to power in Delhi.
The Congress has done much harm to India in the name of ‘secularism’, but the BJP has done as much harm in the past decade for being an opposition party that has worked virtually in absentia. If they want a degree of redemption, let them stop this Bill from becoming a dangerous new law. This is no longer about Muslim ‘appeasement’ but about trying to ensure that, forever and ever, Muslims think of themselves as separated from the mainstream of India by a mostly mistaken sense of grievance. This Bill is of a piece with Rajiv Gandhi’s decision, under pressure from Islamic fundamentalists, to uphold the Muslim personal law. Let us remember the divisions and violence that came afterwards.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh