CHIRAG PASWAN, Lok Sabha MP and chairman of LJP’s parliamentary board, speaks to LALMANI VERMA on how the Centre’s stand on the SC/ST Act row would benefit the NDA. Excerpts:
Right from the Supreme Court ruling on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to the Union Cabinet nod to a Bill restoring original provisions of that Act, how do you see the entire episode “politically”?
Some people tried to make it a political issue, but for us it was more of a social issue. Some mediapersons called it pressure politics, but it was not. We (LJP) tried to become a bridge between the government and SC/ST people…there was feedback that public had an aggression against the Supreme Court’s order and I felt that the government might not be knowing that the situation of April 2, when a nationwide bandh was held, could recur. Several Dalit agitators had told us that they would stage a protest on August 9 if the government does not meet their demands. I can say the NDA government has done a lot of work for SCs/STs and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is their biggest well-wisher because he has taken initiatives to strengthen the Act. The Opposition alleges that the government is anti-Dalit and after Supreme Court’s order, a perception had emerged that the current government was not able to perform in the interest of SCs/STs. Sending a strong message had become essential. I thank the Cabinet for giving nod to the Bill and I am hopeful it will be passed by Parliament on Monday.
LJP had demanded the dismissal of Justice (retd) A K Goel as chairman of National Green Tribunal (NGT) because he had passed the ruling on the SC/ST Act. What is LJP’s stand on that demand after the Cabinet decision on the Act?
We have no personal conflict with any individual. We had an objection against the decision he passed. The way he was later appointed to the NGT sent a message that he was apparently rewarded. Likewise, when the Centre rejected his decision, that sent a message that he was not appointed because of his order on the SC/ST Act. If his decision had not been changed (by the cabinet), we would have been adament on our demand for his dismissal. Now, because the decision has been changed, there is no issue anymore.
In matters related to the SC/ST Act and the UGC’s formula for calculating reservation in teaching jobs, the government did not take suo motu action and responded only after public reactions from different quarters.
I don’t feel that the government was not acting. The government took action at the appropriate time. In the matter of the SC/ST Act too, the government filed a review petition in Supreme Court. We waited for some time for a verdict directly from the court. But because there was delay, the government had to intervene. Similar is the case with the UGC circular. The government had immediately filed a Special Leave Petition and we were waiting for a directive. But I am thankful to HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar who issued a notification to put the recruitment process on hold. Because there was a concern that if recruitments are done, no space would be left for reservation. Hence,the HRD ministry issued an notification. That was a step taken by the government on its own.
How is the episode of SC/ST Act going to impact the upcoming elections for NDA?
SCs/STs constitute a large population in the country and are a deciding factor in several states. This section had been left deprived for a long time. Hence it is necessary to discuss their issues. Often, people say SC/ST Act is against upper castes. I say it is not. This Act is against anti-social and criminal elements who take pride in triggering violence. This Act protects SCs/STs. Hence, if this Act was not restored and issues of these sections were not addressed, a major section of that society would have been upset with the our government. The way steps have been taken, I am sure the faith of SCs/STs in NDA and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be stronger in 2019 Lok Sabha elections as compared to 2014.
Some SC/ST organisations had met the LJP leadership and had said they will stage a protest again on August 9. What is your message to them after the Cabinet decision on the SC/ST Act?
There is no reason now to stage an agitation. I don’t think that there will be any agitation. LJP’s Dalit Sena will also not take part in any protest.
In a meeting called by LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan recently, Dalit MPs of NDA had said there was anger among SCs/STs which had grown after the Supreme Court order. Do you feel that damage control has been done with the Cabinet decision and the anger among SCs/STs will drop now?
There was no damage at all. These sections raised their issues before the government because they had faith in our government and our PM. Yes, at some places they raised issues in aggressive manner. But you express anger with people you are close to. So, there was no such damage which needed to be controlled. But yes, after this decision of the Cabinet, faith of the people has increased.
The ruling side often alleges that the Opposition was creating a wrong perception that the NDA government was anti-Dalit. Do you feel that the perception will now change?
First of all, I will ask the Opposition that if NDA is anti-Dalit, then what have they done so far the communties. Why the Opposition did not raise any issue of Dalits during the discussion on no-confidence motion in Parliament. Congress president Rahul Gandhi did not mention this issue in his speech. A few days later, Congress leader and former Law minister Ashwani Kumar justified the appointment of Justice Goel to NGT… Congress and other Opposition parties only engage in propaganda to create vote bank. Likewise, they have made Muslims their vote bank. I appeal to different sections of society to set their agenda and support a government which accepts them. We (LJP) have an issued-based alliance. If the government had not accepted our agenda and given us reason to worry, we would have looked into other options. But we did not get any such reason. Our demand of reservation in promotions was accepted and the UGC matter was also addressed. So, the society too should place their agenda before the government.
On the SC/ST Act matter, LJP was apprearing aggressive. Will LJP continue in NDA?
LJP is completely with NDA.
BSP, LJP and Republican Party of India are major parties who claim to be well-wishers of Dalits. The way BSP supported SP in the UP by-elections and defeated BJP and now other parties are looking for alliance with BSP in different states, do you feel that latest development in SC/ST Act matter will help NDA counter BSP-supported alliances.
BSP chief Mayawati claims to be a well-wisher of Dalits and leaves no issue to do politics on. But why is she silent on the SC/ST Act matter. She cannot speak because her government had issued an order regarding the Act similar to the guidelines the Supreme Court issued. Even slogans of her party changed over time. Firstly, the NDA alliance is very strong and secondly, there is no one in the country who can challenge our Prime Minister. On the other hand, there are over a dozen claimants for the PM post in the so-called grand-alliance, like Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Rahul Gandhi, etc.
There are senior leaders from the Dalit community like Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale. But in recent incidents of protest like on April 2 and the earlier movement of Bhim Army, it was seen that youths from Dalit community directly came to the streets and staged an agitation without any political support. Have the youngsters lost faith in the leadership of senior politicians from the community?
I don’t feel they are losing faith. New generations have different issues. Our elders tolerated and suffered. The new generation will neither tolerate nor suffer to that extent. Today’s Dalit youths want their rights with respect. We will not beg or request before anyone. That is the difference. The more faces and leaderships emerge from any society, the society will unite more and grow.