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New Delhi: The move by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to fast-track a contentious Bill to tackle communal violence could widen the political divide in the country.

It comes at a time when five states are preparing for polls in November-December and against the backdrop of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh that left 62 people dead and displaced 40,000 people in Muzaffarnagar.

Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said on Monday that work had begun on the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill that aims to protect minorities from attacks.

“I have sought details of the Bill from the concerned department," Shinde told reporters in Delhi..

Asked whether the Bill will be tabled in the next session of Parliament, expected to begin at November-end, Shinde said he was not sure. “But yes, work has started on it," he said.

The Bill, which was first introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2005 and was referred to a parliamentary standing committee, had been opposed by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some other parties on grounds that it will hurt the federal structure of the country.

The Bill had provisions that hold state government functionaries responsible for incidents of communal clashes and gives the central government the right to intervene during communal flare-ups by deploying central forces in a state without the state seeking it.

The BJP, which is in a direct face-off with the Congress in the polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, alleged that the ruling party was trying to “communalize" the situation ahead of the state elections as well as general election due in 2014.

“We are in support of a law to stop communal violence. But in this Bill, some provisions were made deliberately to target certain organizations and groups," BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.

Another party leader, Balbir Punj, added: “They (UPA) are trying to force communal political agenda...trying to communalize the country."

A few days after communal violence erupted in Muzaffarnagar and nearby districts, Union minority affairs minister K. Rahman Khan wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Shinde urging them to push the communal violence Bill in the winter session of Parliament.

Congress party spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said there should be a debate on the proposed law. “It is a pending discussion. It is important and has a far reaching effect. Every effort will be made to make it better," Dikshit said.

Mumbai-based political analyst Jai Mrug said the timing of the government reviving the controversial Bill is significant.

“After the Muzaffarnagar riots, the Congress needs to reinforce the fact vis-a-vis the Samajwadi Party (SP) that it is committed to the legislation. Most parties are worried that the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) is going to take the minority votes in Uttar Pradesh. They also want to get a share of it."

The Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government had been criticized for its failure in controlling the violence.

The Bill for which the draft was prepared by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), is likely to face opposition from many state ruling parties, including the Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Shiromani Akali Dal.

The parliamentary standing committee on home affairs submitted its report in 2006 to Parliament and the government tried to take up the Bill for consideration at least five times in the Rajya Sabha, but failed because of objections from the opposition.

PTI contributed to this story.

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