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’
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
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