Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said the Modi government’s “exemplary record” for the welfare of Dalits and the BJP’s popularity among depressed classes had led to a smear campaign by other political parties. Stating that the alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act came through a Supreme Court order on a petition “wherein the Centre was not even made a party,” the Law and Justice Minister told reporters that a review petition had been filed.
“Our record with regard to the welfare of Dalits has been exemplary. The SC/ST Act came into being in 1989. But it was in 2015 when the law was given more teeth by the inclusion of acts such as blackening of the face, forcible shaving of head and prevention from riding a horse under its ambit,” Prasad said.
The BJP has the largest number of MPs, legislators, mayors, Zila Parishad chairpersons and village mukhiyas from the Schedule Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) communities, the minister said. “This has led to jitters among parties, which have always used the weaker section for votes,” he said.
Lashing out at the Congress, Prasad wondered why B R Ambedkar was not conferred the Bharat Ratna till the V P Singh government was installed with the BJP’s support. “On the other hand, we made Ram Nath Kovind — a Dalit — the president of the country,” he said.
Lambasting BSP supremo Mayawati, who has been severely critical of the NDA government on issues relating to Dalits, Prasad cited two orders passed during her tenure as Uttar Pradesh chief minister directed officials to prevent misuse of the SC/ST Act. He termed these as the “greatest affront to the very social group, which she claims to represent and fight for”.
On whether the Centre would consider bringing an Ordinance if the review petition is rejected by the Supreme Court, Prasad said “This is a hypothetical question.” “We have filed a very strong review petition and we’ll ensure that Dalits’ interests are not compromised,” he said.
On demands for including provisions of the SC/ST Act and reservations in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, he said, “Such demands have arisen out of the anxieties triggered by the Supreme Court order.” “We would ensure that there is no dilution of the law meant to protect the Dalits and that the implementation of the Act is effective,” he said.
Defending the BJP’s stand against the inclusion of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians among the Scheduled Castes, Prasad said, “The Constitution clearly states that only those among Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs could be included in the category.” “Ambedkar had made such a provision after giving due thought to India’s social realities. The inclusion of new groups in the category would lead to infringement of the Dalit rights,” he said.
On Rahul Gandhi’s candle march in New Delhi yesterday in protest against the rape cases of Kathua and Unnao, the Union minister said, “We believe in ensuring justice to the aggrieved, not in polemics.” On Jammu and Kashmir minister Tassaduq Sayeed reportedly calling the BJP and the PDP “partners in crime”, Prasad said “I am not aware of this. Hence I would not like to comment”.