Moving to placate protesting upper caste groups in his poll-bound state, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan Thursday announced he will ensure that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is “not misused” and no one will be arrested before an investigation. The announcement flies in the face of a concerted move by the Centre to nullify a Supreme Court ruling in March this year which angered the SCs and STs because they saw it as a dilution of the law meant for their safety. That ruling allowed provisions for anticipatory bail to an accused, a preliminary enquiry before registration of a case under the Act, and prior sanction by a superior officer before effecting an arrest.
In August, ahead of a Bharat Bandh called by angry SC/ST groups and after protests by even NDA Dalit MPs who met at Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s house, the Union Cabinet approved amendments to the Act to nullify the Supreme Court order and remove any room “for interpretation by the courts”.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “Narendra Modi government cares about the development of our Dalit and Adivasi brothers and will strive in that direction. We have done that before and will do so going ahead.” The amended Act was passed by Parliament within days.
On Thursday, as upper caste protesters gave a call to gherao the Chief Minister’s residence, Chouhan took to Twitter to announce: “MP mein nahi hoga SC-ST Act ka durupyog, bina jaanch ke nahi hogi giraftari (MP will not allow misuse of the SC/ST Act, no one will be arrested without an investigation).” Earlier, he told reporters that everyone’s right will be protected in the state.
The Chief Minister’s promise of not allowing “misuse” of the Act coincided with predecessor Babulal Gaur’s assertion that the Supreme Court ruling on the SC/ST law was correct and justified, and the government should follow it.
Gaur said the “people’s anger” was against MPs who favoured the amendments, and not against the BJP. Referring to the Mahabharat, he said it happened “because Bhishma Pitamah chose to remain silent when Draupadi was being stripped”.
Over the past few weeks, groups and organisations representing the upper castes have taken to the streets across Madhya Pradesh, gheraoed politicians, including ministers and elected representatives, and shown them black flags.
Their anger over the Centre’s amendment to the Act has found traction in the state because government employees are unhappy with its policy of reservation in promotion — only SC/ST employees benefit from the policy. Objecting to this policy, employees belonging to general categories, OBCs and minorities have formed an organisation called SAPAKS and a political wing has announced it will contest all 230 assembly seats in the state.
The protests have caught the BJP government off guard. Chouhan appeared on the backfoot because two years ago, while addressing a gathering of SC employees, he announced that “no mai ka lal can end reservation” and gave an undertaking that his government favoured reservation in promotions.
The High Court had struck down the policy of reservation in promotion and the Madhya Pradesh government had challenged it in the Supreme Court — the matter is still pending.
Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Bhupendra Gupta said Chouhan’s latest announcement “exposed the double standards of the BJP”. Recalling Chouhan’s ‘mai ka lal’ comment, he said the Chief Minister was earlier “guilty of contempt of court” and was now “insulting Parliament and the Constitution”.