The beleaguered chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, made a surprise announcement this week that has far-reaching political consequences in the poll-bound state.
In an obvious attempt to douse the prairie fire ignited by the aggressive movement against the amended SC/ST Act, the CM said that his government would not allow the law to be misused in the state. “There would not be any arrest without investigation,” he announced.
Chouhan’s statement came, significantly, a day after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, BJP’s ideological fountainhead, expressed his opinion on the controversy surrounding the “misuse” of the Act for prevention of atrocities against scheduled castes and tribes.
Advised Bhagwat: “The Act should be implemented properly, it should not be misused.” Taking Bhagwat’s statement further, MP CM promised that his police would not arrest anyone under the Act without investigation.
Bid to please upper castes
MP CM’s public assurance is a clear attempt to placate those upper caste voters who have been on the warpath for over a month now against the amended SC/ST Act. The agitation’s ferocity and spread has taken the political parties by surprise.
It started as gherao and black flag demonstrations against MPs, MLAs and party leaders, forcing many of them to re-schedule their tours. It escalated to a successful bandh in the State and rallies across the State, including a huge one in Ujjain.
Over the past few days the agitation has degenerated into stray incidents of violence and stone-pelting at CM’s pre-poll mass contact tour.
The unforeseen anger against the amended SC/ST Act has unnerved the BJP leadership. The movement is directed against all parties, including the Congress, who supported the amendment to overturn the Supreme Court order ‘diluting’ the law.
But being the party in power, the BJP is bearing the brunt. The upper caste voters may consist of only 15 per cent of the electorate, but they have remained, by and large, steadfastly with the BJP. Their resentment may prove costly for the BJP.
Dalits are unhappy too
But, on the other hand, Chouhan’s stand is not going to please the scheduled castes too. They have been flexing their muscles against the Supreme Court order on the Act, leading to a belligerent bandh last summer that culminated into large-scale violence in MP.
The BSP state president Pradeep Ahirwar expressed his unhappiness: “CM is not above the Constitution. The SC/ST Act must be implemented.” AJAKS, the association of SC/ST government employees and officers, pointed out the contradictory nature of Chouhan’s statements and the fact that he seems to be running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
Even the slightest unhappiness among scheduled castes should set alarm bells ringing in the BJP. For, it commands 28 of the 35 seats reserved for them in the state.
“We will continue our agitation as long as the Parliament does not withdraw the amendment,” says Hiralal Trivedi of SAPAKS, the association of government officers that has emerged on the forefront of the movement against SC/ST Act.
On the other hand, the Dalit activists are not going to let a mere chief minister dilute the gains they have made through blood and tears, forcing the mighty Parliament to fall in line.
The development has unnerved the BJP so much that, for the first time in its history, it summoned an exclusive meeting of its upper caste ministers and leaders as a damage control exercise. The meeting, held in Bhopal this week, instructed the leaders to use their influence in their communities to restore their confidence in the party.
Only time will tell whether Chouhan’s political gamble will pay or backfire, with the party annoying both the scheduled castes and the upper caste voters.
Tailpiece: Black is certainly not the colour of the season. There have been several instances in the past when the police had turned out those wearing black shirts or black sarees from Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s public meetings on the suspicion that they were attired in black to voice their protest.
Now, Satna police have taken black-phobia to ridiculous length. It arrested a shopkeeper for selling black balloons to the agitators! Apparently, the agitators had released black balloons to make visible their protest when Chouhan visited Satna this week.
The agitation against SC/ST Act has made the government see ghosts everywhere.
Powers That Be, my column in DB Post of 22 Sept 2018