Union law minister Kapil Sibal while speaking on the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill, 2014 in the parliament insisted that it was meant to deal with situations like those of Gujarat 2002 riots where the state government was behind the killings. This was meant to raise the hackles of the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and it was also to please the Muslim voters.
The BJP and the rest of the opposition parties cutting across ideological lines had opposed the bill on grounds that it was an encroachment on the rights of the states since law and order was a state subject. The main argument put forward by the opposition parties was that it is a violation of the federal system enshrined in the Constitution.
Chairman Hamid Ansari deferred the introduction of the bill which is a clear rebuff to the government’s legislative agenda. BJP’s chief national spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad pointed out that the old bill which was introduced in 2005 and was returned to the House by department-related stranding committee with changes in the provisions in 2009 was withdrawn and a new bill was introduced.
Prasad said that the opposition to the bill came from regional arch-rivals like the Communist parties and the Trinamool Congress, the AIADMK and the DMK, the BSP and the SP.
Leader of Opposition Arun Jatiley argued that parliament did not have the legal competence to legislate in matters which were the exclusive domain of the states. He countered Sibal’s argument that the bill did not affect the federal system because the powers relating to issues mentioned in the bill vest with the state executive by saying that the state executive is bound by laws enacted by the state legislature.
Sitaram Yechury of CPI-M said when the very legislative competence of the Centre is questioned, the bill cannot be introduced. “Without settling it, even the discussion on it will ultra vires of Constitution,” he said.
The Prevention of Communal Violence Bill is a key part of the Congress’s secular agenda for the coming general elections. The National Advisory Council headed by Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi played an important role in formulating the bill.