BELAGAVI: In the midst of a massive uproar, the anti-conversion Bill, called the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021, was passed via a voice vote in the legislative assembly at the winter session in the Suvarna Vidhan Soudha in Belagavi on Thursday.
The Legislative Assembly adopted the Bill even as Congress legislators rushed to the well of the House in protest. Karnataka becomes the ninth state in the country to pass such a Bill in the state assembly.
During a marathon debate over the Bill, several top leaders of the Congress, JDS and BJP were involved in a war of words on which party had come up first with the idea and plan to draft such a Bill to get it passed in the legislature.
When the debate was initiated by Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah calling the Bill unconstitutional and draconian, Law Minister J C Madhuswamy intervened to recall it was the Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah which for the first time took the initiative to produce an anti-conversion Bill.
The Law Minister said, "A similar Bill was drafted by the Law Commission when Siddaramaiah was the CM and the Bill also was brought before the Screening Committee then. We have made some changes to the same Bill and now tabled it in the Assembly.''
When Siddaramaiah disputed the Law Minister's claims, the Speaker Vishveshwar Hegde Kageri asked the former whether he (Speaker) could hold a brief meeting with Siddaramaiah and the Law Minister to clarify whether the then Congress government had brought such a Bill before the Screening Committee.
During the meeting, it came to light that Siddaramaiah had signed the Bill drafted by the Screening Committee and had also asked to place it before the cabinet in 2016.
Embarrassment for Congress and Siddaramaiah
Despite several Congress MLAs trying to prevent Siddaramaiah from attending the meeting called by the Speaker, Siddaramaiah decided to huddle up with Madhuswamy and Kageri. MLAs M B Patil, Anjali Nimbalkar, Ajay Singh and several others tried to halt Siddaramaiah but the latter did not yield.
Eventually, the claim made by Siddaramaiah in the House before the meeting that the Bill was not placed before the cabinet turned out to be false when Madhuswamy furnished documents to show Siddaramaiah had signed the Bill after it was drafted by the Screening Committee.
While trying to avoid being blamed for making way for the Bill during his tenure as CM, Siddaramaiah said a delegation of BJP people headed by litterateur Chidananda Murthy had submitted a memorandum to the BJP government headed by B S Yediyurappa in 2009, suggesting that the government bring an anti-conversion Bill on the lines of the one brought in the Assembly by Madhya Pradesh. The delegation asked Yediyurappa to bring in the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Bill after replacing Madhya Pradesh with Karnataka.
The delegation had asserted before the government that if the Bill similar to the one brought by the Madhya Pradesh government was brought in Karnataka, none would question it or halt its passage in the legislative assembly, said Siddaramaiah.
The claims of Siddaramaiah led to a verbal duel between him and Yediyurappa as the latter said the Bill was being brought to end forcible religious conversion. Minister K S Eshwarappa intervened and hit out at the allegations of some Congress legislators that it was the agenda of the RSS to bring in such a Bill. He said, "Yes, it is the objective of RSS and BJP to bring such a Bill to stop religious conversions in the country which were going on unabatedly. We (RSS and BJP) will crush those trying to convert Hindus in the country into pieces.''
The statement of Eshwarappa enraged Congress legislators who rushed to the well of the House in protest and opposed the passing of the anti-conversion Bill in the assembly.
Amid the uproar and protest in the well of the House, the Bill was passed via a voice vote at about 5.30 pm.