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Can the Buddhists change the course of MP politics?

The large Buddhist populace in the state can make or mar the fortunes of many, writes Shams Rehman.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2003 21:58 IST

Could the Buddhist vote make a difference in the forthcoming Assembly elections? That's the question that has begun to haunt both the major political parties and the psephologists alike.

With a large Buddhist population in the state, particularly concentrated in eastern Madhya Pradesh and districts bordering Maharashtra, the community is in a position to make or mar the fortunes of several candidates.

Already the Buddhists are seething with anger over both the major political parties ignoring the community in distribution of tickets. No wonder the Congress party that has traditionally been getting the en-bloc support of the community in the State is feeling the heat, as their vote appears drifting towards the BSP.

"Not even one Buddhist was given ticket in 230 constituencies by either Congress or BJP though we number over 40 lakh in the State and definitely the community is feeling ignored", says Dr Indresh Gajbhiye, president of Dr Ambedkar Janmabhoomi Sansthan, who has been leading the movement for renaming of Mhow after Dr Ambedkar.

It is believed that there are 40-45 constituencies where Buddhists are numerically strong enough to make a difference. In fact, there are constituencies in the State where Buddhist vote is as high as 45% as in Khairlanji (Balaghat), currently represented by RPI. The other constituencies with large Buddhist population includes Amla (over 40%), Katangi 30%, Lanji 25%, Barasivni and Kirnapur (30%), Saunsar, Pandurna, Multai, Betul, Parasia, Gohad, Bhander, Mhow, Paraswada and Naryavali (20%). Besides, there are two-dozen more constituencies where the community has more than 10% of the electorate, claims Dr Gajbhiye.

Though the data might appear exaggerated to some, experts feel that feeling slighted by the Congress, the community might choose Mayawati and vote for her party en masse. And the statistics are frightening enough for Congress.

"BSP is fast making inroads in this huge population that might prove crucial for both BJP and Congress", says a Congress leader requesting anonymity. "It was the sizable Buddhist population in the State that was in the mind of the party when it organised the International Buddhist Conference in Bhopal last year", he adds.

Among the Buddhists the mood is evident, a general apathy towards both the major parties and a clear tilt towards BSP. "There is no longer a soft corner towards BJP which was common till a few years back", says Sushila Kathane, a social worker for two decades and a resident of Rahul Nagar near Shravasti Bauddh Vihar. "There is general disenchantment as Buddhist candidates are ignored by the political parties in ticket distribution", says Kathane, who is also general secretary of The Buddhist Society of India. "There is a wave for BSP", says Kishor, resident of Panchsheel Nagar in the capital.

Disagrees Gajbhiye who feels that Chief Minister's efforts for the uplift of Buddhists will work for Congress. Gajbhiye had demanded Congress ticket from Amla but was denied". He, however, admits that the community is sour that Congress has not given ticket to any Buddhist. Incidentally, Buddhist high priest Bhadant Anand Mahasthavir had said that he did not consider Mahendra Baudh as a Buddhist during his recent visit to the capital.

Buddhist population could be much higher

The Buddhist population in the State could be much higher than suggested by the census records as the Dalit converts did not register themselves as Buddhists under the category of religion because of a past law, which stopped the facilities including reservation meant for Scheduled Castes to the neo-Buddhists.

The Buddhist converts were not deemed as Scheduled Castes until the Centre amended the law in 1990 following which the Madhya Pradesh government issued a notification in March 1994 stating that all neo-Buddhists would continue to get the privileges of their caste even after conversion. In fact, it is surmised that the Buddhist population could be well be 40-50 lakh. "Dr Ambedkar was born in Madhya Pradesh and his caste Mahar alone has a population of 38 lakh almost all of whom are Buddhists besides the other castes", said a high official in the government.

The districts with large population of Buddhists include Balaghat, Mandla, Dindori, Jabalpur, Seoni, Chhindwara, Betul and Datia.

First Published: Nov 17, 2003 20:27 IST