Madhya Pradesh assembly elections 2018: Bandh deaths, caste one of main issues in Gwalior-Chambal
While both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have been wary of broaching the subject openly, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has influence in some parts in the region, is raising the issue of Dalit deaths.
The death of seven people, including six Dalits, in Gwalior-Chambal during the Bharat Bandh protests on April 2 has widened caste fault lines and emerged one of the main political issues in Madhya Pradesh ahead of the November 28 assembly elections, political observers say.
While both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have been wary of broaching the subject openly, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has influence in some parts in the region, is raising the issue of Dalit deaths. Meanwhile, Sapaks, a party of the upper castes, which has fielded several candidates in the region, is alleging that the government has foisted false cases against upper-caste men.
Dalit organisations called a Bharat Bandh on April 2 to protest against what they saw as the dilution the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by a March 20 Supreme Court verdict that blocked the automatic arrest of any person charged under the law and denial of anticipatory bail. The law was subsequently amended to negate the verdict.
Efforts by the BJP-led government to reinstate the automatic arrest provision and denial of anticipatory bail have not gone down well with the upper castes, which have put up posters in parts of Madhya Pradesh saying they will not vote for the BJP or the Congress.
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The impact of the protests can be seen in the 17 assembly seats in the three districts of Gwalior, Bhind and Morena. In the 2013 elections, the BJP won 11, the Congress four and the BSP two. All these seats are witnessing a three-cornered contest this time between BJP, Congress and BSP. Sapaks is also in contention in a few constituencies.
“It’s not development but alleged injustice in the name of caste that has become a major but undeclared poll issue in Gwalior, Bhind and Morena districts. Outsiders have just seen the events of April 2 but we saw its aftermath. A large number of caste-based clashes took place in the region cementing the divide between the upper and lower castes,” said KD Sonakia, a Gwalior-based social activist.
SCs and STs make up about 23% of the electorate in the region, going by government records, which no one wants to lose. At the same time, the parties do not want to lose the upper caste vote. Candidates of the Congress and the BJP are taking part in caste panchayats where they are trying to mollify both Dalit and upper caste leaders.
Addressing an upper caste panchayat, OPS Bhadoriya, the Congress candidate from Mehgaon, where two people died in a clash on April 2, said: “We are assuring that justice will prevail. All those who are innocent will be protected.”
The BSP candidate from Bhind, Sanjeev Singh, is more forthright in raising the issue. Three Dalits and an upper caste person were killed in Bhind during the April 2 violence.
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Hitting out at both BJP and Congress, Singh asked his audience: “Would you support a party (BJP) that is allowing the accused to roam freely, and will you support the Congress, which didn’t include anything about the victims in their manifesto? It’s only BSP which helped the victims both financially and legally.”
BSP has given ~1 lakh each to family members of the victims .
Amit Dubey , a Sapaks-backed candidate from Gwalior (east), the area worst affected by the violence of April 2, said: “ Young people who came out for self-defence to counter the protestors were booked and instead of focusing on their careers, they are busy in legal issues.”
“In Bilkhari village in Gohad town of Bhind district, the whole village of Brahmins, including an upper caste principal, were booked under SC/St Act just on a trivial issue on August 16. The politicians are allowing this rift as they believe in divide and rule,” said Guddu Singh, a local social activist in Gohad town.
BJP leaders say caste differences are not an issue in the elections. Lal Singh Arya, general administration department minister in the BJP-led state government, said: “We believe in Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas (With everyone and for everyone’s progress). It’s the BJP which restored the ( Prevention of Atrocities) Act and it’s our chief minister, Shivraj singh Chouhan, who said the misuse of act will not be allowed in MP and injustice will not take place against the upper castes. The issue has been resolved.”
Supporting Arya, the BJP candidate from Gwalior east Satish Sikarwar added: “A few people could be upset with the violence (in Bhind) but for the BJP, development is the main focus.”
Families of the victims are upset by the dilatory tactics of both the BJP and Congress.
Ramvati Jatav, 38, wife of Rakesh Jatav, who was killed on April 2, said, “Earlier, my family was a blind supporter of the BJP. My husband’s cousin brother, who is a BJP corporator from the area, wanted us to stop raising our voice for justice. When we refused, he snapped all ties with us.”
Ramnaresh Jatav, 53, lost his 20-year-old son in a clash in Mehgaon. He said: “Some community leaders came to our home a few months ago and pasted a poster demanding justice. We saw a ray of hope but now politicians are hesitant to raise the issue publicly. ”
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