BJP Faces Caste Conundrum in Hindi Heartland over Amendment to SC/ST Act

The BJP is in dilemma because while its traditional support base of upper castes is getting increasingly uneasy, Dalits in states like Uttar Pradesh continue to be politically aligned with the BSP.


Lucknow: If politics is about managing contradictions, the BJP has its hands full in the Hindi heartland ahead of the 2019 general elections.

An order passed by the Supreme Court earlier this year on the stringent bail provisions of Prevention of Atrocities against Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes Act has spiraled into a political debate that threatens to singe the ruling party.

In the face of protests by Dalit groups, the Narendra Modi government had to pass an amendment bill to negate the impact of the SC order. The reaction in the core BJP constituency among the upper castes is now slowly beginning to surface, especially in poll-bound states.
In Uttar Pradesh’s Awadh region, there is a popular saying in Hindi ‘Maya Milli na Ram’. A choice between a rock and a hard place.

The party is in dilemma because while its traditional support base the upper castes is getting increasingly uneasy. Dalits at large in states like UP are politically aligned with the BSP.

On the contrary, strong protests from the upper castes are already visible in poll bound Madhya Pradesh. Even the upper caste leaders within the party are getting restless and have slowly started to voice their concern.

Brahmin face and veteran MP from Deoria, Kalraj Mishra’s recent tweet is the reflection of this dilemma. The former Union minister and once a close aide of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has tweeted, “For maintaining the social harmony, SC/ST Act should not be misused. It’s the responsibility of all political parties, including that in power that the provisions of the Act should be re-looked into.”

And it’s not just the BJP’s top Brahmin face who is at unease. Party’s MLA from Ballia in UP, Surendra Singh is even more vocal. He has said “there is a gross misuse of the Dalit Act to frame innocent people. If political parties are so keen to impress the Dalits then why not make a Dalit PM for next 10 years.”

Many others within the party organization are however not willing to speak on this sensitive matter, but do accept that it’s a conundrum.

A senior leader holding an important office in the state BJP, not wishing to be named, said, “Party’s top leadership seems to have played a strong gamble ahead of 2019. Hoping to win over the Dalits across India with a presumption that the upper castes with few options will ultimately vote for the party. It’s too early to say how the situation will crystallize. We are in wait and watch mode.”

Officially the BJP leadership in the state maintains caste will not be an issue in the 2019 general elections. UP BJP’s spokesperson Dr. Chandra Mohan says, “PM Modi and the BJP is committed to sabka sath sabka vikas. We don’t think and work on caste lines. There is absolutely no concern among the party leaders. The party will contest the 2019 polls on the issue of development.”

Former BBC correspondent Ram Dutt Tripathi draws a parallel with VP Singh’s Mandal gambit. “Singh implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations, but he was not accepted as the leaders of the backwards. Natural leadership went to caste leaders like Mulayam and Lalu,” he said.

Dalits, thus he added, will by and large stick to their caste leadership and the parties associated with their identity politics.

Prominent Dalit activist SR Dara Puri feels that there is an unneeded controversy on the SC/ST Act. The Modi government has just restored the Act in its original format and not made it more stringent.

Political observers also see a link between THE BJP’s attempt to refurbish former PM Atal Bihari Vajpyee’s legacy to reach out to the Brahmins who are the largest voting bloc in UP after Muslims and Jatavs.

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