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'Will BJP Abolish Reservations?'

By Aditi Phadnis
May 14, 2024 08:26 IST
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'In Western UP, last time a lot of Dalits voted for the BJP.'
'This time, there is a rethink among Dalits about the extent of their support for the BJP.'

Kindly note that this image has only been posted for representational purposes. Photograph: PTI Photo/Rediff archives

With all political parties weighing in on the scheme of Constitutional reservation for Dalits, the community watches warily as an issue on which there has always been political consensus moves into the arena of contention.

Speaking at an election rally in Ratlam (Madhya Pradesh), Congress leader Rahul Gandhi promised that if he comes to power, 'the Congress will remove the Supreme Court-mandated 50 per cent cap on caste-based reservation and increase quota benefits for people from Dalit, backward, and tribal communities'.

He also charged the Bharatiya Janata Party with attempting to change the Constitution and do away with these rights.

Speaking to Business Standard from Karnataka, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge said: "Everyone knows it is the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and BJP that want to change the Constitution to end reservation. Their leaders have spoken openly about it."

"The government is trying to undermine reservations in different ways. There are around 3 million vacancies in central government posts, of which 50 per cent are reserved for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs (Other Backward Classes), while the other 50 per cent are for the general category. They are not even filling these vacancies."

However, Prime Minister Narendra D Modi, Home Minister Amit A Shah, and other members of the government strongly contest this.

Modi told a gathering in Warangal (Andhra Pradesh) and elsewhere that the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, commonly known by its backronym INDIA, bloc's project is to cut into scheduled castes, scheduled tribes reservations and divert them to the minorities.

Shah says the BJP is committed to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes reservation. He said in multiple television interviews last week that if the government had wanted to, it could have changed the provisions any time in the past 10 years, as it had the parliamentary majority to do so.

'It did not, and it never will. It was the Congress that changed the Constitution and imposed the Emergency,' Shah he said.

Information Minister Anurag Thakur told Business Standard from Hamirpur (Himachal Pradesh): "The Congress is bent on giving reservations on the basis of religion, snatching the rights of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs. We will never let this happen."

Origins of the debate

The debate on changing the reservation provisions in the Constitution started with statements by various BJP leaders, including current Lok Sabha candidate from Nagaur (Rajasthan), Jyoti Mirdha, who said in a campaign speech: 'Desh ke hith mein kai kathor nirnay karne padte hain. Unke liye humein samvidhanik badlav karne padhte hain. Agar samvidhan ke andar humein koi badlav karna hota hai toh aap mein se kai log jaante hain ki uske liye dono jo humare saadhan hain, Lok Sabha aur Rajya Sabha, unke andar haami chahiye hoti hai (Several tough decisions need to be taken in the country's interest, and for that we have to make Constitutional amendments. If we have to make amendments to the Constitution, we need the nod of both Houses of Parliament).'

As the election campaign progressed, the issue gained momentum, with all political parties jumping into the fray to use it to their maximum advantage.

During a campaign speech at Shahjahanpur (Uttar Pradesh) on May 8, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav targeted the BJP: 'The current Lok Sabha polls are an election of Constitutional churning in which on one side there are rakshak (protectors) of the Constitution and on the other side there are its bhakshak (destroyers). Our task is to save the country’s Constitution, democracy, and reservation for the poor and the deprived.'

The Samajwadi Party's closest competitor in UP, the Bahujan Samaj Party, retorted that it was actually the SP that was targeting Constitutional reservations.

Commenting on social media, BSP leader Mayawati said: 'Samajwadi Party's behaviour, character, and face, as always, are those of a party that is strongly opposed to the rights of Dalits, extremely backward people, and the reservations given to them in the Constitution. Abolishing reservation in promotion and tearing up the Bill in this regard in Parliament are actions that are difficult to forgive.'

What reservations mean to Dalits

In Nagpur, Satish (22), a taxi driver, says he is worried.

"Do you think that if the BJP gets over 400 seats, it will rewrite the Constitution?" he asks. "We are from the Dalit Samaj. Father has a government job, so we are economically comfortable. But we have seen and heard BJP leaders say they want to rewrite the Constitution. They are all upper caste. No Dalit is saying this. And, if they return in such large numbers, they can easily do it."

This sense of disquiet is not limited to Vidarbha (Maharashtra), considered the birthplace of Dalit assertion and also the birthplace of B R Ambedkar. More than 1,000 kilometres away, in Western Uttar Pradesh, Dalits were asking similar questions.

In 2019, the BJP won 15 of the 17 reserved seats in the state, which sends 80 to the Lok Sabha.

Monu Gautam (32), a barber in Meerut whose shop is adorned with images of Ambedkar, fears the BJP might scrap caste-based reservations.

"They should not change what's written down. We must follow the Constitution. They are changing things in it. What Babasaheb has said and done should be followed," said Monu, also a Jatav, a Dalit subcaste that handles leather.

In the Dadri assembly constituency of the Gautam Buddha Nagar Lok Sabha constituency, Vinod Kumar, also known as 'Thekedarji', says his community is not convinced of reassurances from the BJP brass that Constitutional provisions regarding reservation will remain untouched if the BJP has a majority that is large enough. He says that the government has already given reservations to upper castes on the basis of economic backwardness.

Vinod's father is considered a legend in the semi-urban locality. In his lifetime, he set up the Ambedkar Library, which is now flourishing. It was packed with youngsters studying for the UPSC and state service examinations.

"We've sent 14 children who studied here to the government so far," Kumar says with pride.

A Dalit professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who did not want to be identified concedes that the Dalits are in the grip of a political dilemma.

"Of course, there are worries about rewriting the Constitution. But there is also a feeling among Dalits that when the system is disproportionately powerful, then everything is weighted against them," he said.

"Many Dalits do feel that neither the judiciary nor the police are entirely impartial or neutral. And the sense of insecurity deepens when there is the prospect of a massive electoral majority," the professor added.

"Dalits feel the system will act against the weak. For instance, most issues that can be settled at the level of lower courts are now being taken to the Supreme Court. Weaker sections don't have the capacity to escalate legal battles. And when you add a brute majority to that, Dalits believe that is a very dangerous situation."

Says Sudha Pai, author of Maya, Modi, Azad: Dalit Politics in the Time of Hindutva and an expert on Dalit politics: "In Western UP, last time a lot of Dalits voted for the BJP. This time, there is a rethink among Dalits about the extent of their support for the BJP."

"There are three reasons for this. One is the issue of rewriting the Constitution; the second is the rise of the INDIA alliance. Even though important Dalit political actors like Mayawati and Chandrashekhar Azad are not part of it, there is the thought that if Muslims and Dalits join up, they can beat the BJP's hegemony and prevent it from getting a brute majority; and the third is the rise of Azad."

Dalit communities seem to be reordering their electoral priorities. The result on June 4 will show how.

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Aditi Phadnis
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024