Minister for Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan insists there was no delay in the government’s response to the apex court’s order on the SC/ST Act, says the Centre’s measures for Dalits haven’t been communicated effectively enough and argues why there is “nothing wrong” in adding Ramji to Ambedkar’s name.
Why Ram Vilas Paswan
With the Supreme Court laying down conditions to the SC/ST Atrocities Act, Ram Vilas Paswan, the Dalit leader whose party, the LJP, is part of the NDA, has pressed for a review petition. He has also expressed his concerns on the HRD Ministry’s decision to accept the UGC’s formula for reservation in teaching posts. Paswan, who had quit the NDA after the 2002 Gujarat riots, rejoined the alliance ahead of the 2014 elections. The nine-time MP from Bihar has a reputation for knowing which way the political wind blows — he has served as Union minister under six PMs.
RAVISH TIWARI: On March 20, the Supreme Court laid down procedures to ‘check false implication of innocent citizens’ under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. While several leaders, including you, pointed out the flaws in the order, why did it take the government nearly a week to respond?
Governments have a process, there are certain rules and norms that they have to follow. Now, when this judgment came, we (the Lok Janshakti Party) immediately filed a writ petition. In case of the government, there are several ministries involved — Law Ministry, Ministry of Social Justice etc. There is also bureaucracy involved. But I am happy that in less than 15 days the government has taken a decision to file a judicial review against the order. The Law Ministry has made this clear. The Congress party is creating such an uproar now, but why didn’t they file a review petition?
This decision was not of the government, it was an order of the Supreme Court. So, one has to follow a procedure. Had the government issued an executive order to this effect, then it would have made sense to put pressure on them to withdraw the order. But the matter is in the Supreme Court now and the 10-15 day delay is not much.
RAVISH TIWARI: The HRD Ministry is learnt to have accepted the University Grants Commission’s new formula for implementing reservation in teaching posts — considering the department as a unit. This could shrink the number of SC, ST and OBC faculty in all Central universities. There has been no appeal yet against the decision of the Allahabad High Court.
Even then, we had immediately raised the issue with Prakash Javadekar (HRD Minister). The government decided that after studying all aspects they would go for a Special Leave Petition (SLP). (The new reservation formula was in response to a direction of the Allahabad High Court in April 2017. While hearing a case on teachers’ recruitment at the Banaras Hindu University, the court said each department, rather than the entire university, should be treated as the “unit” on which reservations are based.)
We are very concerned (about the order). Our party is based on social justice and we are mindful of all things happening around us. We ensure that things are not delayed unnecessarily, we also keep a watch on people’s intentions. But there are certain issues which are genuine and we understand that as well.
COOMI KAPOOR: When the NDA government came to power in 2014, they got a lot of support from certain sections of the Scheduled Castes. But now, with cases such as the death of Rohith Vemula, the Bhima-Koregaon violence etc, do you think the BJP is falling out of favour with these communities?
There is not enough communication about the work that the government is doing for the Scheduled Castes and the other minorities. In Mhow, where Bhimrao Ambedkar’s father lived in a small room, the Modi government has built a grand memorial. 26, Alipur Road (Delhi), where Ambedkar wrote the Constitution, too has become a national memorial… There is an Ambedkar memorial in London. But despite the efforts, the kind of signals that should be going out, the kind of perception that should be created, is not there.
In Lucknow (January 2016), the Prime Minister said that Rohith Vemula is Mother India’s son. He got very emotional. Later, when there was an incident in Una (in Gujarat in July 2016, with four Dalit men flogged for skinning a dead cow), the CM was changed, 36 officers were suspended, and for the first time the chargesheet was submitted in 30 days. But the government should have spoken more about its efforts.
The Opposition managed to create an atmosphere against the government.
In case of gau rakshaks, he (the PM) called them ‘goondas (goons)’.
Take, for instance, the Jan Dhan Yojana… 90 per cent of the people who are using the scheme must be from the Scheduled Castes. But that is an indirect contribution and no one notices it. In fact, in 2016, under the Modi government, the SC/ST Atrocities Act was made more stringent and tougher. Now, the people should know that it was this government that strengthened the Act, and it is the Supreme Court that has given an order to weaken it.
COOMI KAPOOR: You have been part of governments of both the NDA and UPA. Who will you align with in 2019?
Babasaheb Ambedkar endorsed the politics of self-respect. We don’t leave any government, but when someone attacks our self-respect why should we continue? Our vote is transferable. The Dalit vote, whether of Ram Vilas Paswan or Mayawati, is not concerned with secularism or communalism, the UPA or NDA… But if you attack our self-respect, we will not tolerate it, we are not bonded labourers.
Whichever government comes to power, it cannot take away the rights of the Scheduled Castes. It is a coincidence that wherever Ram Vilas Paswan went, a government was formed.
SHALINI NAIR: You mentioned the Ambedkar memorials that have been built by this government. The Prime Minister also highlights them often. But on the ground, there has been an increase in the atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The welfare schemes for them have also been neglected. The OBC Commission Bill has not been passed yet, the committee for sub-categorisation is taking extension after extension…
The OBC Commission has not got Constitutional status and the government is working towards it. If someone is to be blamed for this, then it is the Congress party. It came up in Parliament but the Bill wasn’t passed.
Secondly, there is the issue of allocation of funds. Earlier, even during the UPA times, when the Centre sanctioned funds, the states insisted on deciding its allocation for different schemes. The 14th Finance Commission increased the share of Central revenues to the states from 32 per cent to 42 per cent. But, despite that, the states have been complaining that the Centre is not allocating enough. The Centre has not slashed any funds.
(On atrocities) We got Independence 70 years ago. There is a difference between the generation then and now. The discrimination that I faced was much lesser than what my father faced, and my son Chirag is facing almost nothing. How do atrocities happen? The earlier generation endured a lot, but people of the new generation are not willing to tolerate atrocities. So if there is no change (in attitude towards Dalits), incidents of atrocities will continue to happen. New leaderships are taking shape. It is a good thing. The thinking of the entire society is changing slowly.
ANANTHAKRISHNAN G: What do you think is the flaw in the Supreme Court judgment? The court has said that the SC/ST Atrocities Act is being misused, and to prevent it, they have added the provision of anticipatory bail. Do you think the Act is misused?
The poor man does not have money to hire a good lawyer… somehow he files an FIR. This (misuse) can happen in any case. Take, for example, the dowry Act. The charge is against one person but the entire family was once put behind bars.
The Atrocities Act was made to reduce atrocities against members of the SC/ST communities. But if you put riders, the poor person will not even go to file an FIR. If the poor doesn’t go, then after a few years you will say, ‘See, now that we altered the Act, the atrocities are over.’
Any law can be misused. Name one law which isn’t. Why is no one supporting the Supreme Court’s order? That is because it has created a wrong perception.
UNNI RAJEN SHANKER: After the TDP pulled out of the alliance, your son, Chirag Paswan, warned the NDA government against antagonising allies. Do you agree?
What he meant was that when the government says ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, then it is the duty of the government to take everybody along. But then it is also the duty of the allies to stay with the government.
The TDP stayed with the government for four years, but never mentioned the special status demand. Now, they are stalling the House over the issue. There are guidelines for giving the special status. Also, Nitish Kumar has been raising the demand for Bihar much before the TDP. The guidelines are not for one state.
The Finance Minister offered to give a special assistance package, an amount equivalent to what the state might have got as a special category state. But they didn’t agree. The TDP and YSR Congress are using the demand as a political ploy before the elections.
Issues are being created for no reason. Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik said that ‘Ramji’ should be added to Bhimrao Ambedkar’s name. He is right. What is wrong in adding your father’s name to your name? Where is the secularism, communalism in the issue? Does adding the word ‘Ram’ make a name communal? There are many ‘Rams’ here — Ram Vilas Paswan, Ram Nath Kovind, Ramdas Athawale. (The Yogi Adityanath government has decided to change the name of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar to ‘Dr Bhimrao Ramji Aambedkar’ in government and court records.)
Earlier, people who belonged to Scheduled Castes would be named after gods. The name ‘Ram’ is very common. So, there is nothing wrong in adding ‘Ramji’ to Ambedkar’s name for official purposes. You are free to call him Babasaheb Ambedkar.
SUSHANT SINGH: But Ambedkar was critical of Ram. He never used ‘Ramji’ in his name, even when he was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1952. One doesn’t refer to the UP CM as Ajay Mohan Bisht because he has decided to be called Yogi Adityanath.
I have read Ambedkar’s writings, and he has never said that ‘Ramji’ should not be added to his name. Mahatma Gandhi is called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, but there is no objection to calling him Mahatma Gandhi. In the same way, you are free to call him Babasaheb.
SUSHANT SINGH: What do you have to say about the recent violence in Bihar and West Bengal?
In four years, the Prime Minister has not once mentioned the Ram Janmabhoomi in any of his speeches. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar is running the government and no one can doubt his intentions. No one can doubt the intentions of Ram Vilas Paswan. But, there is the Opposition and then there are certain people who say provocative things… The most important person is the Prime Minister and he hasn’t said anything. But yes, there are people who say things. People’s nature and signatures don’t change in a day.
SUSHANT SINGH: Your Kashmir policy — you have been a supporter of Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani — and the policy of this government are completely different. How do you reconcile with that?
There was a time when it was believed that the government was not in favour of any kind of talks in Kashmir. Our (the LJP’s) policy has been the same since the beginning. Even when we met Geelaniji, we told him, ‘Forget everything. Just say that you believe in the Indian Constitution and let’s hold talks.’ But if someone burns the Constitution and then abuses Bharat Mata, can you then hold talks?
The government has said that its doors are open to everyone. But if you back terrorism, back proposals from Pakistan, then which Indian will support you? The basic problem is that some people do not agree that Kashmir is a part of India. The children of Kashmir who played with handkerchiefs earlier are now playing with guns. They are seeing gun-wielding men around them.
When two soldiers are killed, the media pounces on the government, urging it to teach Pakistan a lesson. That aside, the government has to perform its duty.
Even today, if separatist leaders say that they believe in the Constitution of India, we will fight for all their problems.
AAKASH JOSHI: Why has the government failed in tackling atrocities against the SC/ST community?
In a federal structure, the police is not under the Central government. If something happens in Bihar or UP, then the government of that state is responsible for it. We have been saying that whenever there is an attack on people from the SC/ST community, in any part of the country, the superintendent of police and collector of that district should be suspended. Responsibility should be fixed on one person. The Central government cannot interfere in all cases.
Having said that, both the Centre and state should look into cases of atrocities against SC/ST people and communal violence. They should take stringent action against the perpetrators.
SEEMA CHISHTI: You have worked with different governments. Which one of them has been the most decisive?
Every prime minister has his strengths. There have been two NDA prime ministers, Vajpayee and Modi. Vajpayee’s was a coalition government. This time the BJP has a majority. This has been possible because of Narendra Modi. People have not voted for the BJP but for one man. So obviously, the confidence of such a person will be different. A leader who has absolute majority can take bigger risks, like the Modi government did with demonetisation and the GST. Only they could have done this. We will see the results in the future.
Narendra Modi means work. He is on a plane for 12-13 hours in a day sometimes, he travels to five countries in three days, gets heads of 12 countries to India on January 26… So there is something.
SHAILAJA BAJPAI: You said that people voted for Modi and not the BJP in 2014. Do you think the PM is as popular now?
This is Narendra Modi’s fourth year, and for most governments this is a challenging period. But there is no unity in the Opposition. We have one leader and the entire NDA is behind him. Who is there on the other side?