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Anti-conversion bill won’t be a law in Karnataka yet, BJP says ‘don’t have enough numbers’

Congress single-largest party in Legislative Council. BJP looks to stitch up simple majority in January 2022, when new members take oath.

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Bengaluru: The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 otherwise known as the ‘anti-conversion bill’ won’t be a law in Karnataka, just yet. The BJP government in the state has deferred it to the next session of the Legislative Council in January when it can “stitch up a majority”, as it presently does not have the numbers to get it passed.

On Friday, both Houses — the Legislative Assembly (lower house) and Legislative Council (upper house) were adjourned sine die without the anti-conversion bill being passed in the latter.

The controversial bill which has been strongly criticised by minority communities, especially Christians was passed amid protests by leaders of opposition parties in the Legislative Assembly Thursday through voice votes, with the government deeming it “perfectly legal and constitutional”.

However, while the bill was listed to be tabled and taken up for discussion in the upper house Friday the last day of the session it wasn’t discussed.

“We didn’t push for it since we don’t have enough numbers to get it passed,” Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra told ThePrint Friday evening. 

“Since it was listed for discussion, it is as good as being tabled. We will debate it in the next session when we can stitch up a majority,” he added. 

The home minister further said that they can pick up where they left off and the bill can be passed in the council soon after the debate in the next session. “Only if it had been defeated in the council did we have to re-introduce it in the assembly. For now, it will not lapse,” he added.

Also Read: Christian shrine ‘vandalised’ in Karnataka while assembly discusses anti-conversion bill

The math after MLC elections

Currently, the BJP has 26 members of Legislative Council (MLCs) out of a total of 75, while the Congress is the single largest party, with 29 MLCs. Though the recently concluded MLC elections will change the dynamics, newly-elected members will take oath as MLCs only in January, when the term of existing members elected from local bodies will end.

After winning 11 out of 25 seats that went to polls earlier this month, BJP will have 37 MLCs  just one short of a simple majority in January. The BJP hopes to gain the support of Lakhan Jarkiholi, who won the MLC election as an independent after being denied a BJP ticket.

The Congress, which won 11 seats, will have 26 MLCs and the Janata Dal (Secular) 11 MLCs. 

Considering legal options, Opposition says

On Friday, Opposition parties also appealed against the bill being introduced in the council citing “absence of members”.

Saleem Ahmed, working president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) and MLC-elect, told ThePrint that they are considering “legal options” to stall the bill.

“They (BJP) will have a majority in the council by January and won’t need JDS’ support. Although they as a party are one short of majority, their own leader who won as an independent will support them,” he added. 

The Christian community in Karnataka has been alleging that attacks on members and places of worship have increased ever since the government proposed the bill.

‘Only an improved version of bill drafted under Congress’

Karnataka Law Minister J.C. Madhuswamy caught the Leader of Opposition in assembly, Siddaramaiah, off guard when he claimed that the anti-conversion bill was “only an improved version” of the bill drafted when the Congress was in power in the state. 

The BJP government even produced a note from the chief minister’s office in 2015, asking the law commission to send the draft to the state cabinet in 2015. 

“This is double standards of the Congress,” said revenue minister R. Ashok.

Siddaramaiah however told reporters Thursday: “The draft was initiated in 2009, when (BJP’s) B. S. Yediyurappa was chief minister. The law commission, constituting RSS members, submitted the draft to the law department in 2013, and it reached us in 2015. We never brought it before the cabinet or discussed it because we didn’t want to bring the law.” 

He added that the draft submitted to him then and the current bill were different.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: Majority want anti-conversion law, no one needs to fear harassment, says Karnataka CM Bommai


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