Shivraj Chouhan tries to pacify protesters as six die in Bharat Bandh protests in MP
Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tried to calm frayed nerves after six people died in violence-marred Dalit protests in Madhya Pradesh on Monday over an alleged dilution of a law that safeguards India’s lower-caste communities.
He appealed for peace and said his government was committed to protect the interests of schedule caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) communities and the Union government has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court.
According to political experts, who don’t want to be named, the protests are not good for Chouhan in an election year as he is already struggling to pacify the state’s farmers, a major chunk of the electorate, who led a protest last June. At least five farmer-protesters were killed in police firing in Mandsaur that time.
In Madhya Pradesh, 82 of 230 seats in the assembly are reserved for the SC and ST communities. These apart, the Dalits and tribals, who are about 37% of the state’s population, can swing the tide in another 35-40 seats, the political experts said.
They said the three-time chief minister is trying to keep these voters happy with doles such as patta, or land lease right, to the SC/ST for government plots they are occupying; highly subsidized food grains; and financial assistance for child births at their homes.
According to his minister for general administration Lal Singh Arya, who is also the government’s Dalit face, anti-social elements and not Dalits were behind Monday’s violence.
The clashes were mainly concentrated in the Gwalior-Chambal region, which was considered a Congress bastion, though the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has chipped away the rival party’s votes. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made inroads in recent assembly polls.
Congress MP for Guna, Jyotiraditya Scindia, tweeted that the region had always been a symbol of peace and non-violence. “I make a humble appeal to people to maintain peace. The government should take immediate and concrete steps to restore peace,” he said.
The BSP legislator for Dimni in Morena, Balbir Dandotiya, accused the BJP of stoking caste politics ahead of assembly elections slated for November-December. “This was why the violence mainly happened in Gwalior-Chambal, known for its caste politics,” he said.
Curfew was clamped in Morena district and areas under four police stations in Gwalior.
(With inputs from Mahesh Shivhare in Gwalior and Anupam Pateriya in Sagar)