Centre plans special cabinet meet on Orissa flare-up

Centre plans special cabinet meet on Orissa flare-up

New Delhi: Reacting to global pressure and demands within the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) over the unabated violence against the Christian community in Orissa, the Union government is convening a special cabinet meeting to discuss the stepping up of its engagement in the state even as some Congress ministers wanted the region to be declared as a “disturbed area".

In a disturbed area the army would be vested with sweeping powers to enforce law and order.

Pointing out that the Union government has already used provisions of Article 355 of the Constitution by sending strong advisories to the Naveen Patnaik-led government in Orissa, the Congress party warned that the Centre would not hesitate to act. “The government will not hesitate to use every constitutional and legal power available. When and how these powers will be used, will be decided by the cabinet," Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.

The special cabinet, which is expected to meet early next week, will discuss a plan of action for ending the violence in Kandhamal in Orissa, where alleged activists of Bajrang Dal, a right-wing Hindu organization, have clashed with Christians over the past month leading to several deaths and large displacements.

According to a person in the Union government, who is familiar with the developments but did not wish to be identified, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who returned from his trip to the US and France on Wednesday, broached the issue of violence against the minority community in Orissa in the cabinet.

“He said India’s image has been badly tarnished because of the continuing violence against the community. He said it could not go on like this," a minister, who did not want to be identified, said adding that some ministers, including railway minister Lalu Prasad, reiterated that Bajrang Dal should be banned.

Congress ministers were conscious about the political fallout of the imposition of the President’s rule under Article 356. “The opposition will use it against us. We are considering other methods to put things under control. There is a view that the region, where the violence is continuing, can be declared as disturbed area," the minister said.

However, constitutional experts say that the Union government could declare a particular region as disturbed area only under emergency powers. “It is unlikely the Union government uses the emergency powers," said an expert, who did not want to be quoted.

Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a professor at the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and who visited Kandhamal recently, said the Congress-led UPA had shown no “seriousness" in containing the violence. After issuing directives, the government should mobilize public opinion and political force to use Article 356, he added.

Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu contributed to this story.

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