Eight months after Rajasthan saw violent protests during a nationwide Bharat Bandh called by Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) outfits, the BJP has won only 20 of the 59 seats reserved for candidates from these communities in the state. In the previous Assembly election, the party had won 50 of these seats.
Among the 34 seats reserved for SC candidates in Rajasthan, the BJP won 11 this time, as against 32 in 2013. Of the 25 seats reserved for ST candidates, the BJP won nine this time against 18 in 2013.
The party’s poor performance is particularly notable in places where the state had witnessed violence during and after the April 2 bandh, which was called in protest against the Supreme Court order on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The BJP lost Hindaun seat in eastern Rajasthan by a margin of 26,780 votes. An SC seat, this was where a mob of upper caste people allegedly torched the houses of a sitting MLA and a former legislator, both Dalits, on April 3. Dalit residents had complained that this violence was in retaliation to the April 2 protests organised by Dalit rights outfits in the area. The winning Congress candidate in Hindaun, Bharosi Lal Jatav, is one of the two leaders whose houses were burnt.
In Alwar district, where a Dalit man was killed allegedly in police firing on April 2, the BJP lost in eight of the total 10 seats. In Sikar district, where several people were booked after the April 2 protests, the BJP lost all five seats it had won in 2013. The Congress won seven of the eight seats in the district.
A similar scenario was witnessed in Barmer and Jaisalmer districts, where Dalit groups had clashed with anti-reservation organisations on April 2. The BJP won only one out of the nine seats in these two districts.
Back in April, then home minister Gulab Chand Kataria had cited movements such as the April 2 Bharat Bandh as the reason behind an increase of 27 per cent in crimes against SCs and 31 per cent in offences against STs in the first three months of this year.
The BJP also ended up losing in several unreserved constituencies where large numbers of people from SC and ST communities were booked in the aftermath of the bandh.
“The SC and ST population in the state voted against the BJP primarily because of police action during the bandh and the way people were harassed and persecuted after the bandh. Many SC and ST youth were arrested for their alleged involvement in violence in April despite the fact that in many cases there was no evidence against them,” said activist Kailash Mina.
According to Satish Kumar, director of Centre for Dalit Rights, “There was anger among Dalits against the BJP. They felt the central government did not present their case properly to the Supreme Court. Increasing instances of atrocities against weaker sections of society didn’t help. After the April 2 protests, more than 400 people from the SC/ST community were sent to jail. This time, their vote was anti-BJP.”
The shift of the SC and ST voters from the BJP can also be gauged from the fact that the BSP doubled its tally, from three seats in 2013 to six seats. In three of the SC/ST seats, Congress rebels contesting as independents won.