There is anger at the Centre ‘succumbing’ to leaders claiming to represent Dalits.
The Bharatiya Janata Party leadership is worried over the feedback it has received from its “upper caste” leaders, who have shared their voters’ anguish at the government’s decision to bring in an amendment bill and restore the provisions of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act. The leaders have expressed fear that there may be an electoral price to pay for it.
As per these leaders, most of whom are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, there was severe resentment against the way the Central government had “succumbed” to “illogical demands” of the leaders who claim to represent the Dalits.
According to close associates of one upper caste BJP MP from poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, the anger and resentment among the supporters was very strong with some of his hard-core supporters even asking him to resign from the party.
“The leader is in a catch-22 situation. His core supporters are from his caste and they are very angry with him for not being even able to criticise the amendment, let alone do something to repeal it. The leader, on his part, has told his supporters that he had conveyed the feeling of the workers and voters to the party high command and there was nothing much he could do beyond that,” the associate said.
The feedback that the party had received from its leaders in Madhya Pradesh was that even though the Congress was not using the amendment as a poll issue, yet it had become a major topic to criticise the BJP among the voters, especially in Gwalior, Chambal, Rewa, and Satna where caste plays an important role in elections.
The bill was introduced in Parliament last month during the Monsoon session to overturn the Supreme Court order that had “diluted” the Act by banning immediate arrest of a person accused of insulting or injuring a person from the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe member.
The Amendment Bill 2018 ruled out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs, notwithstanding any court order. It also provides that no preliminary inquiry will be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is a Thakur by caste and seen as the upper caste face of the party, was facing a lot of pressure from his supporters, with some of them stating openly that they will not work for him or the party anymore.
“The ‘savarnas’ (upper castes) are very unhappy with the way the Central government has acted on the SC/ST Act. The perception that the party is discriminating and focusing only on the welfare of the backwards while ignoring the general and upper castes is prevalent even in the interiors of the state. The changes that were brought by the Supreme Court were valid and were not at all discriminatory, but the government buckled under pressure from leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan who is known for changing sides at the drop of a hat. We are facing a lot of questions from our workers and we have no answers,” an “upper caste” BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh said.
According to another senior party leader, the government came under pressure from allies like Paswan and some of its own MPs who threatened the party that a massive Dalit mobilisation against the government would take place if the Supreme Court’s order was not overturned.
“The party has been battling a perception that it is anti-Dalit because of incidents like the Una flogging. Our adversaries managed to capitalise on this perception and were able to push us into a corner. No party can ignore the Dalits, especially our party, which is now on the path to replace the Congress as a pan-India party. Yes, we have been receiving feedback that the upper castes are angry; the same has been shared with the top leaders and a way will be found out to assuage their anger,” a Rajya Sabha member said.
The fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party does not possess a national level Dalit leader was hurting the party, the RS MP confessed. “We do not have someone of the stature of a Mayawati or even Paswan. And hence when a situation like this arises, the views of someone like Paswan, whose politics is limited to one state, and Athavale (Ram Das of RPI) become too important to be ignored. For long, we have been called a party of Brahmin and Baniya, but if you see the recent developments, most of our actions have been, if I may say, anti-Brahmin and anti-Baniya.”
As per data from a post-poll survey conducted by the Lokniti research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 2014, 47.8% of the total Hindu upper caste voted for the BJP; in 2014, the corresponding figure was 35.3%.
The share of the OBC vote for the saffron party too increased from 25.2% to 33.8% in the same period. The SC voters, too, increased their support for the BJP in 2014 with 24.5% voting for it, which was an increase of 10% from 2004. As per data, the upper castes shifted massively from the Congress to the BJP in the period between 2004 and 2014, which many experts have attributed to the “minority and Dalit appeasement” policy of the UPA I and UPA II.