Govt in damage control mode after 9 killed in Dalit protests, says committed to well being of SCs, STs
Nine deaths and widespread violence during Monday’s Bharat Bandh called by Dalit groups to protest the alleged dilution of a law protecting the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes saw the government and the BJP swing into damage-control mode.
The government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against a March 20 order that banned automatic arrests and registration of criminal cases under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Several minsters , including home minister Rajnath Singh, reiterated the government’s commitment to the well being of SCs and STs .
The turnout and violence took the party by surprise, two BJP leaders, who didn’t wish to be identified, said. “We didn’t anticipate this,” one of them said. The other was concerned that deaths could dents party’s image and have political costs.
The deaths were reported from BJP-ruled states — six in Madhya Pradesh, two in Uttar Pradesh and one in Rajasthan.
“Generally there is six months time to do it, but it would have been better if a review petition was filed earlier,” said Bhagirath Prasad, the party MP from Bhind in Madhya Pradesh. Opposition parties had succeeded in creating a perception against the BJP, he said. Bhind, where two people were killed, saw one of the worst violence of the day.
“When the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party are discussing alliance, such incidents don’t help us,” said a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh, requesting anonymity. Arson and clashes were reported from Azamgarh, Agra, Hapur and Meerut in western UP.
Uttar Pradesh, where Dalits make up 22% of the population, sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. The BJP had won 72 of these seats in 2014.
But its immediate concern will be poll-bound Karnataka, where Dalits accounts for 16% of the population. The southern state votes for a new assembly on May 12.
Madhya Pradesh’s 16% of the population is Dalit and the state votes later this year. So do Rajasthan, where SCs are 17% , and Chhattisgarh, where 12% of the people are SCs. The Congress is the BJP’s main rival in these states.
Home minister Singh led the government in reaching out to the angry communities. “The government is committed to ensuring welfare of SCs, STs, and guaranteeing them full protection of law,” he said,adding it was the responsibility of all parties to ensure that no violence took place.
Social justice minister Thawar Chand Gehlot sent out tweets in response to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter post that said keeping Dalits at the lowest pedestal was in the DNA of the RSS and the BJP.
The Modi government had strengthened laws to curb atrocities against the SCs and STs and had celebrated the 125th birth anniversary of Dalit icon Bhim Rao Ambedkar, he said.
The Congress had exploited the Dalits for political gains while empowerment of the downtrodden was at the core of the BJP’s philosophy, party general secretary Bhupendra Yadav said .