The upcoming elections in Madhya Pradesh and four other state assemblies are being considered a make or break for the prospects of the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the Opposition in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Political pundits point out that the results in these five states will be the true barometer of whether Narendra Modi holds on to power at the Centre or if the Congress under Rahul Gandhi can cause a major upset.
Madhya Pradesh is a prestige battle for the BJP where incumbent Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office. And while the overwhelming sense from the ground favours his image, there is an unexpected battle that the CM will have to fight. Reports suggest that the upper caste voters are angry at the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party. Who, you ask, is to blame for the anger that has been brewing among the saffron party’s core voters over some time? Apparently, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the state, finds a report by The Indian Express.
At the centre of this supposed angst among a section, the voters are the Modi government’s stand on the SC/ST Act and CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s statement from two years ago that supported reservation. In June 2016, Chouhan while addressing a meeting of SC/ST unions had said in Hindi that “koi maa ka laal aarakshan khatm nahi kar sakta’. That literally translates into – no one can dare to do away with reservation.
This had irked the upper caste voters who believe that they have been victims of the caste-based reservation system. This statement wasn’t even over yet and the BJP at the Centre gave yet another reason — by amending SC/ST act after the Supreme Court diluted the stringent provisions of the law — for upper cast voters to believe that it was siding with the people from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
Questioning the need of the Centre’s move on SC/ST Act, a traditional BJP supporter Vijay Dwivedi from Rewa while speaking to IE said that when the apex court had corrected the act, why did the Centre bring a law in Parliament to reverse it? “Why should savarnas (Brahmin/Rajput) vote for the BJP now,” he asked.
Reading into Chouhan’s reservation remarks, an upper caste Rajput Ajay Singh Baghel said that such statements mean that “he (Chouhan) doesn’t need upper caste votes”. The report further suggests that most of the traditional BJP voters — mostly Brahmin and Rajputs — are offended by MP chief minister’s “mai ka Lal” statement.
This is not the first time when voters are expressing their anger over the Centre’s move on the SC/ST Act. In Septemeber, upper castes and people from other backward classes had staged protest rallies in districts as Gwalior, Morena, Shivpuri, and Chambal of Madhya Pradesh. They said the act was misused against the upper castes and the top court was right in striking down the stringent provisions.
According to IE report, the Centre’s the SC/ST Act move may backfire in the upcoming assembly elections as the mood in upper caste dominated areas in the state is against the ruling party. But voters are in dilemma as the main challenger in the state, the Congress, too voted for the amendments in the Parliament.
Perhaps sensing the threat that lurks, Chouhan had said that he would not allow the misuse of the SC/ST Act in the state. “The misuse of the SC/ST Act will not be allowed in Madhya Pradesh. Only after a thorough probe, a case will be registered. To this end, a directive will be issued shortly,” the Chief Minister had said.
What appeared as Chouhan going against the party’s stand at the Centre may well have been a calculated risk. Whether it works its magic or fails to impress its core voter base is something that only December 12 will reveal.