As political opposition to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2014 crumbles, only parties from the Left are counselling caution. The bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on May 7, comes up for debate in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, after days of public agitation and media frenzy.

"We are totally opposed to bringing the age down," said Brinda Karat, member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. "We opposed it in the Lok Sabha as well. We have no problem with exploring the option of changing other mechanisms within the juvenile justice bill." But the current amendments, she felt, would "damage the legal framework".

The Communist Party of India echoed the same position. "This is a serious thing," said CPI national secretary and Rajya Sabha MP D Raja on Monday evening. "The law will be universal and will apply to the whole country. It is not relate to one particular incident, though that might have triggered the debate. We have to take a long-term view. Of course, there are people who are upset and angry now, but this will have far-reaching consequences. Our jurisprudence should be aimed at reforming and creating responsible citizens. It should not be for retribution."

Raja pointed out that the question of lowering the age of culpability had been raised and rejected before, even at the height of the agitations following the gangrape of December 16. "This is not a new issue," he said. "It came up when the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act was passed in 2013. The Verma Committee report, which informed the law and had recommended stringent anti-rape legislation, had not thought such a measure necessary.

Both parties have urged a wider process of consultation. "Do the parties [supporting the bill] have any idea about children?" demanded Karat. "Have they heard the voices of people who have worked with children, voices from counselling, voices from within the juvenile justice system?"

Both parties have also asked for the matter to be referred to a select committee. "The Bharatiya Janata Party used its numbers to push it through the Lok Sabha," said Karat. "In the Rajya Sabha there was an understanding that it would go to a select committee but they are trying to push it through again. The standing committee of the human resources development ministry had submitted its report, which was against tinkering with the age. All parties gave their assent to that report. But the BJP has backtracked on the position of the standing committee and is bent on bulldozing through a legislation that will take India backwards in how it deals with juveniles in conflict with the law. The BJP is closer to the position of the United States, which would like to try children aged 12 and 14."

While the Left blames the BJP for bowing to popular pressure and using its numbers to push the bill through, the Congress also stands accused of vacillating in its position on the bill. "It all depends on what the Congress is going to do," said Raja. "There are different views within the Congress." Karat, meanwhile, alleged that Congress had gone back on its position and had already agreed not to press for the bill to be sent to a select committee.