Body blow to rationalist movement

Aside from the fact that it’s a massive setback for the community of freethinkers, the horrific murder of Dr Narendra Dabholkar is certain to haunt the ruling Congress-NCP government, as well as opposition combine BJP-Shiv Sena. 

A leading crusader in the anti-superstition movement, for the past 18 years Dr Dabholkar was fighting for a legislation on the matter. His killing has shocked those who wanted to purge society of the bane of superstition. Certain sections are bound to raise several questions before the ruling Congress-NCP alliance that has started preparations for the Lok Sabha elections and will be facing the state assembly polls next year. The killing has also exposed the efficiency of the police force as the state has witnessed many gruesome murders of RTI workers and activists in recent times.

The anti-superstition law was Dr Dabholkar’s lifelong dream and to generate public support for it, he visited almost all the districts in the state on several occasions. The Congress and NCP had backed the idea and had been promising to get the bill passed in the state legislature after it was first introduced on April 13, 2005 in the assembly.

As the phrasing of it was strongly opposed by BJP and Shiv Sena, the bill was reintroduced on December 14, 2005 during the winter session at Nagpur. It was passed by the assembly after a heated debate from both the ruling and opposition sides on December 16. But it did not come before the state council during the budget and monsoon sessions in 2006. After a statewide agitation and several meetings with the Democratic Front government, the bill was introduced in the state council on December 13, 2006. Here, citing constitutional impropriety, Shiv Sena blocked the bill’s passage. Later it got lapsed since the assembly was dissolved in 2009. Now, to revive it, reintroduction of the bill in both houses of the legislature is essential.

Despite the Congress-NCP having majority in both Houses, the bill is in limbo. That’s because since then not enough efforts have been made to get it reintroduced. According to ruling party leaders the bill, if passed, may give an advantage to Sena and BJP in the coming polls.

Stiff opposition
Dr Dabholkar had dozens of meetings with cabinet members and prominent politicians to convince them of the efficacy of the law. Even the state government modified the draft to please various organisations that have been opposing any such legislation. Sources say there is lack of will mainly because parties fear losing their support base. On the other hand, Shiv Sena and BJP have argued that the law, if implemented, will deprive a Hindu person from performing his religious duties. According to a BJP leader it was unreasonable to define blind faith leaving minority communities outside the ambit of the law.

Now, even as prominent leaders of Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena-BJP, including CM Prithviraj Chavan, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, his nephew deputy CM Ajit Pawar, home minister RR Patil, BJP leader Gopinath Munde, his party colleagues Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawade have condemned the killing, it will be difficult for them to win back the trust of the right-wing and rationalists voters. And being hardcore opponents of the bill and Dr Dabholkar being the force behind it, Shiv Sena and BJP are likely to face the wrath of the urban middle class.  

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