In support of the Communal Violence Suppression bill

Do it, but do it without the army

The Indian Express raises a storm over a new bill in the Indian parliament aimed at suppressing communal violence. Its objections to the bill centre around two points: that it gives the central government unprecedented powers over states and that it has the draconian characteristics of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency laws.

Communal violence cannot strictly be bracketed as a ‘local issue’ restricted to the confines of a single state. It never was. While it is for the state governments to ensure the maintenance of law and order and tackle communal violence at its grassroots, India needs a strong national law to ensure that isolated incidents do not get out of hand. It also needs a sufficiently strong constitutional mechanism for a central intervention in case state governments fail in their duties. Indeed, in an age where there is talk of forced international intervention for humantarian purposes it is not at all out of place for the national government to do so. Time and again, India’s existing constitutional mechanisms have failed to curb communal violence. They have not even prevented its politicisation.

As for the draconian bit: if it is necessary in the fight against terrorism (as even the Congress-led government discovered), it is equally necessary in the fight againt communal violence.

But getting the Indian army involved in the control of communal violence is a very bad idea. The primary objective of the armed forces is defence against external aggression. In recent years, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism have become equally important, with some justification. These are all cases where the antagonist directly and violently threatens the Indian state. Communal violence does not fit this brief. Indeed, the army will require a different training, organisation and force composition if it is tasked with this role. It is unlikely that this can be achieved without compromising on its primary role.

The armed forces cannot be used to cover-up the failings of politicians, civil administrators and the police forces. If the central government intends to shoulder the responsibility of suppressing communal violence, it must do so without calling in the army.

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