To an outsider it would seem that the United Progressive Alliance government is on a legislative overdrive. If parliamentary history is any indication, governments world over whenever are on the defensive, usually get into such legislative belligerence to distract people, confound critics and split the opposition.
In the process the government attempts to regain its political initiative.
The UPA government is attempting to follow what has been time tested formulae for beleaguered governments. According to press reports the UPA government is contemplating to introduce several new and populist legislations including the Lokpal Bill, the land acquisition bill and of course the National Food Security Act.
Most of the legislative businesses listed above are related to routine matters of governance and administration. But there is an exception to this list of the mundane -- The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011 -- a highly controversial subject that is bound to split our already fractured polity several times over.
Strangely, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left are silent on this matter. And whatever they have opined on the matter, it has been mere reiteration of their well-known positions.
Enter J Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. The secular fundamentalists attempt to brand her as communal. To the religious fundamentalists, she is an eternal spoil sport. To most, she is the quintessential secularist -- one who does not favour one religious denomination against the other. Naturally, all this makes her brand of politics riveting in the current context.
Stating that the Communal Violence Bill had 'grossly erred' in meeting the stated objectives, Jaya in a hard hitting statement last week pointed out that the bill in its present form was repugnant to the basic principles of our Constitution, undemocratic and fascist.
Reference to fascism, it may be noted, is surely a red rag for the Congress. After all fascism has its root in Italy. The use of word 'fascism' seems to be well thought out, planned and deliberate strategy, ostensibly used to irk the Congress no end, with an obvious purpose.
Stating that this law was enacted with 'vested motives' by a regime 'that is not only running out of steam but also of ideas of survival' Jaya hit at the central government, her distracters and political adversaries where it hurts most.
Demonstrating the inherent contradictions of the bill and the constitutional arrangement, she pointed out that if agitators are put down by a state government the later could be pilloried for stifling dissent and if violence erupts, it can be dubbed communal and the extant law used to dismiss a state government.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which has consistently argued for genuine federalism has strangely chosen to remain silent on this particular constitutional issue. Or are they too busy fending various charges against their leaders that they have forgotten to respond to this fundamental issue raised by Jaya? Either way it would seem that even after ten weeks after the elections results were announced, the DMK has not yet found its moorings.
Lest one believes that all this is political bluster let me hasten to add that Jaya has torn into the substantive part of the legislation as well. Pointing out that the purpose of the proposed law is unstated and therefore unclear; Jaya has raised some fundamental yet disturbing questions.
What has left Jaya completely peeved is that this bill has sought to leave many of the offences proposed to be covered by it to subjective interpretations and therefore possible gross misuse and probably political abuse by various authorities.
For instance, the new act proposes to define communal and targeted violence as any act resulting in 'destroying the secular fabric of the nation'. Pray, what is secular fabric? Who will define this? How will this be interpreted, especially in a country where politics is extremely personalised?
Similarly, hostile environment against a group is defined to mean an 'intimidating or coercive environment' which 'deprives or threatens to deprive' such person of his or her fundamental rights. Further the act provides for an omnibus clause to include 'any other act' that has the purpose of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.
Section 8, Jaya points out, that any form of communication that could 'reasonably' construed to demonstrate an intention to promote or incite hatred is said to be 'guilty of hate propaganda'. Reasonably construed? In these politically challenging times? Well, one shudders to think what is in store for us.
Similarly, what is galling is that the section 13 of the Act seeks to define dereliction of duty in case of public servants. Consequently failure to obtain information regarding the 'likelihood of occurrence of communal violence' and 'failure to take steps to prevent the same' would be deemed to be dereliction of duty.
Jaya rightly points out that any senior officer could charge his subordinate of dereliction of duty when the officers at the field level may well not be guilty of such an offence. The danger is doubled, Jaya warns, by the fact that the National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation can take suo moto action on such elastic interpretations.
But what is indeed a matter of grave concern, as rightly pointed out by her, are the provisions contained in section 20 of the proposed act. Accordingly, any occurrence of organised communal and targeted violence shall constitute internal disturbance.
Crucially it will attract the provision of Article 355 of the Constitution which will enable the central government to even dismiss democratically elected state governments.
It is indeed strange that constitutional pundits are silent on all these issues. It would indeed be a travesty of justice that subjective interpretations of a nebulous law by a few within the central government could be possibly used to dismiss duly elected state governments!
But what is more intriguing is the funereal silence of the entire political class on the proposed act dynamiting the federal structure of our Constitution.
Barring occasional whispers or meaningless debates in some news channels, the entire issue is yet to get the necessary political traction it deserves. One hopes, that Jaya's statement would trigger the same on the subject.
Definitely, Jaya's stand on this proposed bill has been unambiguous. Pointing out the need to eschew vociferous religiosity, Jaya states that the bill is vague and errs in the means of achieving the stated objective. According to her 'even a casual reading of the proposed bill shows that there is more to it than meets the eye'.
In short, according to her, the remedy sought to be provided against communal and targeted violence is worse than the disease itself. That is vintage Jaya for you -- candid and never hesitant to call a spade a spade.
It is this nuanced yet forthright positioning that has been her hallmark since her entry into politics almost three decades ago. It is her ability to see things differently that makes her a political heavyweight amongst contemporary Indian politicians.
The communal violence is just the beginning. In the coming days she is all set to dominate our political scene on all major issues confronting the nation.
Given the fluid state of affairs in Delhi, it is certain that the UPA government at this point in time seems to be one living on borrowed time. In the aftermath of the explosive revelations made by the accused in the trial court in connection with the 2G scam, the central government seems to have absolutely lost its credibility. That makes its continuation in office morally indefensible if not legally untenable.
Expectedly, Jaya has questioned the continued silence of the Dr Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to the charges made by their erstwhile cabinet colleague A Raja on their alleged role in the 2G scam. As the Parliament begins in sessions, it is more or less certain that the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MPs would specifically target the duo of Dr Singh and Chidambaram.
And even if UPA continues in office, people know for sure that the incumbent government is paralysed by scams and rendered dysfunctional by mistrust amongst even senior cabinet colleagues. That makes it a government living dangerously on borrowed times.
Naturally, the question is not when but who after Dr Singh? Will an alternative to Dr Singh emerge from within the Congress? Or will a government be formed by regional parties supported by the BJP or Congress from outside? Or will India have mid-term elections? Whatever be the combination, Jaya has emerged as a crucial player in the current political context.
The Americans (so do several other countries) seem to recognise this fact and prepare for life after Dr Singh's exit from office. The visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Chennai a fortnight back seems to suggest the growing realisation of the international community that sooner than later they have to necessarily deal with Jaya at the national and international level.
PS: From now on, as the national anthem suggests, it is possibly Jaya He in so far as it pertains to India's Bhagya (future)!