The strong pitch for the legislation, with Muzaffarnagar riots as the reason, came at an interaction organized by Congress with civil society working among minorities to elicit their views on issues to be included in the 2014 manifesto. It was a bit of an irony since the bill was a key poll promise of Congress in 2009 though the UPA has failed to promulgate it.
Rahul Gandhi, it is learnt, did not give his opinion on the vexed legislation though he cited AICC general secretary Mohan Prakash as saying that "there are two views on the bill".
The Union Cabinet cleared the bill recently at the fag end of UPA-2's tenure but failed to bring it in the winter session of Parliament. BJP and some regional parties are strongly opposed to the bill.
The community's urgency on the legislation which seeks to hold authorities accountable for communal riots is linked to Muzaffarnagar riots in western UP that left 50,000 Muslims in relief camps. The clashes between Jats and Muslims were raised at the manifesto meeting with participants pointing to the futility of making other promises if lives of people were under threat.
Along with it was raised the issue of arrest of "innocent" Muslim youth in terror cases and the need to fast-track their cases.
When a young participant mentioned "first security, then development", Rahul retorted, "no, both can go hand in hand".
It is not a happy situation for Congress that the legislation it has failed to pass in Parliament is the uppermost concern of the Muslim community, its core support base.
While security was mentioned repeatedly as a concern during the meeting, Rahul agreed that people were worried. Referring to his visit to relief camps in Muzaffarnagar on Sunday, he said when he took an 8-year-old boy aside and asked him what he felt, the boy replied, "I am very scared." Rahul said nobody in any state or belonging to any religion needs to be scared in India.
That Muzaffarnagar dominated the manifesto session may further nudge the Congress to raise the pitch on riots, sure to rile the ruling Samajwadi Party in UP since such focus puts its "secularism" under the scanner. A day after Rahul's visit, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said the Congress was misleading Muslims in relief camps.
Muslim leaders also demanded that dalit converts to Islam be recognized as SCs and the 4.5% minority quota be rescued from Supreme Court which has stayed it. The gathering demanded that 15-point programme for Muslims be made mandatory for states since they were reluctant to implement the Sachar panel schemes.
The gathering also sought a system to rein in the "communal attitude" of the administration which did not allow implementation of welfare schemes.