Thousands of protesters, mainly upper castes, trooped to Bhopal from other parts of Madhya Pradesh for a ‘Kranti Sabha’ rally on Sunday to express their anger over the Centre’s amendment to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Targeting Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who had asserted two years ago that “no mai ka lal can end reservation” for SCs/STs, they sported headbands saying “Hum hain mai ke lal”.
The retort was also visible on hoardings put up by SAPAKS, an umbrella organisation bringing together general castes, OBCs and employees in the state. Formed against the state government’s attempt to introduce reservation in promotion, SAPAKS also formally announced that it will form a political party on October 2 and contest all the 230 Assembly constituencies in the state.
The Karni Sena was among the upper caste organisations that participated in the rally, with speakers targeting both the Chouhan government and the Modi government at the Centre. The organisers claimed support of OBCs too, arguing that they were also affected by reservation in promotion and that a majority of cases under the SC/ST Act were registered against OBCs.
Lokendra Singh Kalvi of Karni Sena accused the PM of dividing the Hindu community, and said, “Jo hamari baat nahin sunega, woh Madhya Pradesh aur Rajasthan mein raaj nahin karega (Those who don’t listen to us won’t not rule in Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan).”
Sukhedev Singh Gogamedi of the Karni Sena accused PM Narendra Modi of doling out empty promises. While Sunday’s protest was peaceful, he said, this may not be the case at other rallies in the future. He said reservation should be based on economic criterion.
The patron of SAPAKS, Hiralal Trivedi, a retired IAS officer, said the organisation was not against any caste or religion. Taking a dig at the PM’s “56-inch chest” claim, he said “it has lost 5 (inches)”. People in the general category had been long making sacrifices, he said, and SC/STs should also make some.
SAPAKS office-bearer K S Tomar said political parties had made general categories “politically untouchable”.
The Madhya Pradesh government’s policy of reservation in promotion had been struck down by the High Court in 2016, but the state government has challenged the order in the Supreme Court. While the matter is still pending there, speaking at a gathering of SC employees in June 2016, Chouhan had made the “mai ka lal” remark, backing reservation in promotions and angering upper castes.
Over the last few weeks, upper caste protesters have also taken to the streets over the Modi government amending the SC/ST Act, to nullify a Supreme Court ruling that was seen to have diluted some of the Act’s provisions. In a bid to placate the protesters, Chouhan had announced that no one would be arrested for offences under the SC/ST Act before a probe. With this promise going against the Centre’s amendment, SAPAKS said it was not impressed because Chouhan had not issued any directive to back this up.
At the rally on Sunday, other speakers, using stronger language against Chouhan and Modi, claimed even some SCs were supporting the SAPAKS movement because reservation benefits had been monopolised by some people. SAPAKS leader P S Parihar noted that the CM was fond of calling himself “mama (maternal uncle)”, and reminded him how Lord Krishna had killed his uncle Kansa.
SAPAKS leaders claimed that the turnout at the Kranti Sabha rally would have been more had the administration not “created hurdles” to prevent people from coming to Bhopal.