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Rivals raise ‘federal’ issues

New Delhi, Feb. 5: The Opposition parties today united against the introduction of the communal violence bill in the Rajya Sabha, accusing the government of violating the country’s federal structure.

Amid the din that ensued, deputy chairperson P.J. Kurien “deferred” the introduction of the bill aimed at stemming hate propaganda and organised communal violence.

Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde attempted to introduce the Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill while there was commotion in the well of the House. Two MPs each from the Telugu Desam Party and the Congress were demanding an undivided Andhra while some Samajwadi MPs were shouting over other issues.

Intervening at this juncture, the BJP’s Arun Jaitley, said the communal violence bill encroached on the states’ powers. “This bill is beyond the legislative competence of the Parliament,” said Jaitley, a view echoed by MPs of other Opposition parties including the Trinamul Congress.

Jaitley said according to the Constitution, police and law and order were on the state list, so it was beyond the Centre to make laws on these subjects.

The bill has been opposed by chief ministers like Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa. Amid such strident opposition, the government recently dropped a provision defining victims as belonging to “religious or linguistic minority”. But that failed to convince the DMK and the JD(U), which also opposed the bill.

“The UPA government has butchered federalism and I register our strong views on the anti-federalism legislation,” said Trinamul’s Derek O’Brien. Law minister Kapil Sibal tried to argue that the Centre would take the opinion of the states. But when a united Opposition refused to yield, Sibal ended his argument saying: “If it is state-sponsored communal activity… like what happened in Gujarat, it is not a law-and-order issue.” The indication was in such a case the Centre should intervene.

Later, the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad alleged at a news conference that the Centre was trying to include provisions of Article 356 (central rule) in the bill. Sibal’s statement on Gujarat “exposes” it, he said.