Opposition parties united against the government for a second straight day as their leaders in Rajya Sabha called for checks on gau raksha (cow vigilante) groups and accused the Centre of encouraging a “mindset” that denies basic rights to the Dalit community.
Protests in different parts of the country clearly had the Upper House worried as MPs, cutting across party lines, described the Dalit anger as a ticking time bomb.
Ahmed Patel of the Congress even warned the ruling party of heavy electoral losses in a slanted reference to the approaching polls in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. “Jin logon ne hamein sabak sikhaya hai, woh aapko bhi sabak sihka sakte hain (those who taught us a lesson can also teach you one),” he said while addressing Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot Thursday.
The Opposition attack, however, was led by BSP chief Mayawati who accused the government of luring Dalits voters with false promises while vigilante groups were committing atrocities against this community in the name of cow protection.
She also flagged the problem of slow delivery of justice for Dalit victims and demanded that the police, who were silent bystanders to the violence unleashed on a Dalit family in Una should be sacked.
“In the name of cow protection, Muslims have been attacked. Now even Dalits are not being spared, especially in BJP-ruled states. Forget about the Dalits getting justice, even an FIR is not filed many times and the latest example is Una.”
Slamming the CID probe ordered into the Una incident, Mayawati said the case should be heard in a fast-track court. “A CID probe is not enough, Rajnathji knows this… What we really need is fast-track courts with a sitting High Court judge,” she said.
She targeted both BJP and Congress for politicising atrocities against Dalits: “Both Congress and BJP cry hoarse over atrocities against the oppressed when they are in the Opposition, but they do little to correct this when they are in power,” she said.
Other parties, however, focused their criticism on the BJP. JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav asked the BJP, “Why do you still have Anandiben in Gujarat? It’s evident that she can’t handle the situation.”
“Who created these gau rakshaks? Why doesn’t the government ban them? What is this tamasha? We talk about Taliban… our caste system has a Taliban-like attitude, we need to discuss that.”
Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien said the BJP is “excellent in seeking voters but it now needs to seek citizens”. He also pointed to the irony of leather factories operating legally in the country while skinning of dead cows is punished with public flogging in some states.
“There are so many people working in the tanning industry. How many of us in Rajya Sabha wear leather shoes? What’s wrong with leather shoes? Let us all venerate the cow but why mock the cow worker? The animal is important, but is the human being expendable?” he asked.
TMC’s political rival, CPM, echoed the sentiment. Sitaram Yechury held the NDA II responsible for opening new avenues of attacks on Dalits. “Ever since this government came to power in 2014, new avenues have been opened up for attacks on Dalits. Ouf 25 students who committed suicide last year, 23 were Dalits. There has been an increase of 19 per cent in the attacks (on this community) since this government came to power,” he said.
“Sometimes we have a diarrhoea of words but constipation of action. We speak a lot, but where is the action,” Yehcury said, referring to similar Parliament debates in the past which have translated into little change on ground.
CPI leader D Raja, on the other hand, quoted Maxim Gorky to dismiss the government’s call for empathy and sympathy for Dalits. He said the oppressed seek neither, but just want to be treated as human beings.
Taking off from where Ahmed Patel left, Leader of Opposition and Congress MP Ghulam Nabi Azad questioned the government’s ability to build the country as the next economic super power while its supporters alienate the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and the minority communities.
“We have been in this House for quite some time. I’ve never seen discussions on law and order happen this frequently here. Even during the (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee government, we didn’t discuss this issue so often. It shows something in your party is different now.”
“The SCs are upset with you. The STs are upset with you. The minorities are upset with you. The PM talks of building India as a super power. What I don’t understand is how will he do this by isolating those who make up almost 45 per cent of the country’s population,” Azad said.
His colleague Anand Sharma questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the Una incident. “The Home Minister said that the PM is pained by the Una incident. Why can the PM not condemn this incident personally? Why does this have to be communicated through the Home Minister?” He also asked Rajnath Singh to prepare a list of groups practising vigilantism in the name of cow protection and act against them.
The government hit back. While it condemned the Una incident, it accused the Opposition of exploiting an issue of social equality for political gains. Gehlot said that the BJP, like Congress, did not send its leaders to Karnataka when a police officer committed suicide there recently. “We didn’t go to Kerala either when a Dalit woman was brutally murdered,” he said.
Gehlot also suggested that people in Gujarat took to the streets only after they were provoked by the Opposition’s statements in Parliament. “An FIR was registered immediately on July 11 on the day of the incident and arrests were made on July 13 and 14. But only after a discussion here was there violence in Gujarat,” he said. This claim drew flak from most parties.
Responding to allegations of cuts by the NDA on funds meant for SC/ST welfare, Gehlot clarified that a cut on the SC/ST sub-plan was on account of more money being allocated to the states after the 14th Finance Commission’s report. “Please don’t mislead the House with wrong facts and figures. You need to appreciate the good work done by this government,” he added.
The Home Minister, however, was less confrontational. “No matter how much I condemn the Gujarat incident, it’s not going to be enough. No sensitive citizen of this country can justify this act. It is a black mark on humanity. But let us not cite figures because if the Opposition is going to quote numbers, even I can do the same to make a counter argument. This is the House of Elders. Can we not rise above political divisions?” he asked.
Singh then quoted figures from the National Crime Records Bureau to show that crime rate in Gujarat is much less than states such as Bihar, UP and even Karnataka. He also assured Mayawati of action against the policemen, but requested her to wait till the probe against them is over.
He informed the House that 16 people have been arrested and an FIR has been registered against seven and that the government has also written to the state High Court to set up a fast-track court for speedy trial of the Una case.
The six-hour-long discussion, which was almost on the verge of a calm end, witnessed a walkout by the Congress after its leader Kumari Selja claimed that none of the Una victims had received the monetary compensation promised to them.
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