Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan Friday accused the opposition of fuelling misconceptions about the SC/ST Act that triggered ‘Bharat Bandh’. The bandh was called by some upper caste-OBC groups to protest against the recent amendments to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by Parliament to overturn a Supreme Court judgement.
The Lok Janshakti Party chief questioned opposition leaders’ “silence” on the shutdown. He also scoffed at the Congress’ promise of 10 per cent quota for upper castes if it came to power.
Paswan, an ally of the BJP, stressed on the need for removing misgivings about the Act which was diluted by a recent Supreme Court judgement, but restored in its original form by a bill passed later on in Parliament.
“There may have been organisations with local influence in the forefront of the Bharat Bandh. But something of this magnitude is not possible until some political forces fan the fire. We would like such political forces to come out in the open,” Paswan told reporters.
Asked which political forces he was pointing at, the Union minister evaded a direct reply but said, “I would like to know where leaders like Congress president Rahul Gandhi and BSP supremo Mayawati stand on the issue.”
“After all, they had supported the Modi government when it brought the bill in Parliament. Earlier, they had charged us with being anti-Dalit when the apex court gave its judgement,” he pointed out.
The LJP chief said, “Altogether 47 offences are covered under the SC/ST Act. Some of these were brought under the law’s ambit in 1989 itself, while the remaining were included in 2015, a year after Modi assumed power.”
“The bill introduced by the government and passed by Parliament did nothing new. It merely restored the Act in its original form, doing away with various conditions laid down by the apex court which had made the law lose its teeth,” he pointed out.
To a query about promises made by the Congress of introducing a 10 per cent quota for the upper castes if it came to power, Paswan remarked “our party is in favour of 15 per cent. What is so great about their promise. And what had they been doing for the six decades they ruled the country”.
“Merely promising would not do. It would involve a constitutional amendment and ways to overcome the hurdle that lies in way in the form of the apex court’s restriction that quotas must not exceed 50 per cent,” he said.
Paswan also said, “We are in favour of a judicial services commission with provision for reservation so that SC/ST and OBCs have adequate representation in the judiciary. It must be noticed that these social groups are still not sufficiently
represented in most important offices.”
“There need not be any controversy about the recent advisory by the Centre on use of Scheduled Castes in place of Dalits. The former is a constitutional term and appropriate for any type of official communication. Dalit is a general term which can, and will be, used informally,” he said.
“The advisory does not impede free functioning of bodies like the Dalit Sena, which is a wing of our party, or the Dalit Panthers,” he clarified.