Los­ing Caste

The SC/ ST Amend­ment Bill has come back to haunt the state BJP. Up­per classes take um­brage at the party’s ‘taunt­ing of the gen­eral castes’

India Today - - STATES - By Rahul Noronha

The an­gry protests by up­per caste groups in the wake of Par­lia­ment pass­ing the Sched­uled Castes and the Sched­uled Tribes (Preven­tion of Atroc­i­ties) Amend­ment Bill in Au­gust (to re­store the orig­i­nal law) could spell trou­ble for the rul­ing BJP in the com­ing as­sem­bly polls. While the pro­test­ers have tar­geted politi­cians of all hues, in­clud­ing Ka­mal Nath and Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia of the Con­gress, BJP lead­ers are con­cerned as the up­per castes have tra­di­tion­ally sup­ported the party.

Many BJP politi­cians can­celled sched­uled tours af­ter se­nior lead­ers like Prab­hat Jha, Bha­gi­rath Prasad, Thawarc­hand Gehlot, Naren­dra Singh To­mar etc were gheraoed. The protests have been stri­dent in ar­eas like Gwalior, Bhind, Morena and Guna, where caste di­vi­sions are more acute. (Eight peo­ple were killed dur­ing the Dalit protests in these dis­tricts fol­low­ing the Supreme Court or­der on the SC/ ST Act in April.)

Just how deep the re­sent­ment runs was re­flected in the com­plete shut­down in all non­tribal dis­tricts dur­ing the

Septem­ber 6 bandh called by up­per caste groups. Posters out­side vil­lage homes in many parts warned politi­cians who did not op­pose the amend­ment against seek­ing votes. Even more wor­ry­ingly, the protests have brought to­gether up­per castes and the back­ward classes who out­num­ber the SC and tribal pop­u­la­tion. Or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Karni Sena and the Akhil Bharatiya Ksha­triya Ma­hasabha are also sup­port­ing the protests.

Mean­while, the Sa­manya Pichda Alp­sankhyak Varg Ad­hikari Karm­chari Sanstha (SAPAKS), es­tab­lished to chal­lenge the state gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy on reser­va­tions in pro­mo­tions, has ap­plied to the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion to be reg­is­tered as a po­lit­i­cal party. With a mem­ber­ship of 40,000 across the state al­ready, SAPAKS plans to put up can­di­dates in all 230 con­stituen­cies in the state. Us­ing its sig­nif­i­cant social media out­reach, it played a cen­tral role in the suc­cess of the Septem­ber 6 bandh. With its cam­paign, SAPAKS has also di­rectly chal­lenged chief min­is­ter Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who fa­mously stated in June 2016, ”No mai ka lal (mother’s son) can end reser­va­tions till I am the CM.” SAPAKS founder pres­i­dent Lalit Shas­tri says the BJP is the prime tar­get in Mad­hya Pradesh be­cause no other CM has “taunted the gen­eral castes” like

Chouhan has.

An­a­lysts say any split in the up­per caste and OBC votes would dam­age the BJP and con­se­quently be a gain for the Con­gress. The state’s non­SC/ ST pop­u­la­tion is 64 per cent. OBCs make up 55 per cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion. What wor­ries the party is that the gen­eral caste votes are al­ways the de­cid­ing fac­tor in the re­served con­stituen­cies. It is no sur­prise then that sev­eral mid­rung saf­fron lead­ers have re­signed af­ter the Au­gust 6 amend­ment.

In­sid­ers say the BJP will try and ex­ploit OBC vot­ers, who are against the amend­ment of the SC/ ST Act, but are in favour of reser­va­tions in gov­ern­ment jobs. The BJP MP from Damoh and for­mer Union min­is­ter Prahlad Pa­tel has called on the OBCs to act as a bridge between the up­per castes and Dal­its, promis­ing that any con­fu­sion per­tain­ing to the amend­ment would be clar­i­fied.

Tak­ing no chances, RSS ac­tivists on the ground have been asked to en­gage with up­per caste vot­ers and con­vince them that not vot­ing or opt­ing for NOTA would only strengthen the Con­gress. It’s not lost on the saf­fron lead­er­ship that the Con­gress isn’t in a po­si­tion to take a po­si­tion against the SC/ ST Amend­ment. BJP spokesper­son Rahul Kothari is hard­pressed to ex­plain why “the mat­ter isn’t in the hands of any po­lit­i­cal party”.

FEAR­ING A BACK­LASH, SEV­ERAL MID-RUNG BJP LEAD­ERS HAVE RE­SIGNED

US AND THEMAn up­per caste-OBC rally in Mand­saur against the SC/ ST Act

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