Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan has been in the thick of dalit politics since the dilution of the SC/ST Atrocities Act. In this interview to Sreeparna Chakrabarty, he explains the perception battle of the government as well as the relevance of dalit leaders in today’s polity, including that of BSP chief Mayawati. The BSP supremo he claims has lost her base among the dalit voters:
Assembly elections to five states are just some weeks away. As a dalit leader, how do you think the government has addressed the concerns.
The biggest challenge before the government had been the Supreme Court ordered changes in the SC/ST Atrocities Act or the Dalit Act. Till now whatever the government has done is pro-dalit, but certain incidents like Una and dilution of the Dalit Act have created a perception that the government is anti-dalit. As far as the Dalit Actrocities Act is concerned the main role had been that of the judiciary, but the blame has come on the government. The same is the case with promotion in reservation case.
Do you think that perception has changed?
The Lok Janashakti Party fought for it. The Prime Minister put it in front of Cabinet despite knowing that there would be a backlash. He could have not taken it up as it was a court order. It is pertinent to note that now the Opposition is not saying anything as they are scared of losing upper caste votes.
There have been protests by upper castes in Madhya Pradesh. What is your opinion on that?
The protests are taking place due to a mis-reading of the Act. Section 41 (A) of the Act puts in safeguards. It states that an FIR can be lodged but it is the police officer and not the Senior Superintendent of Police who can take a call on that... So there are already checks and balances.
But does the support to the upper caste rally by the BJP in Madhya Pradesh show that it is trying to protect its upper caste votes?
Well the political messaging should have been that whatever you (upper castes) have been protesting against is already addressed in the Act, then why are you agitating. Anyway, the Madhya Pradesh government cannot do more than this. This Act was made in 2010. Not that Narendra Modi government has made it. There are checks and balances. But there has been a misconception among Upper Castes.
How do you forsee dalit politics play out in the coming times? Do you think the dalit vote-bank has splintered? Does Mayawati still have the largest share?
You have to understand that dalit is not a caste. It is a combination of castes. There are different leaders of different castes. She has limited herself to a particular caste. She has ignored a whole lot of Ambedkarite organisations and these are the ones which are emerging now. The youth who are emerging now are 90 per cent Jatavs. She is just limited to some pockets.
When time comes to vote there will be BJP in one side and Congress on the other side. Who will vote for her in Rajasthan, for example?
Just notice how she is no longer talking about dalits, because she is scared of losing upper caste votes. Now that she is fighting in all three states, she needs upper caste votes. So to please the upper castes, she is not even mentioning the dalit name.
Why hasn’t she spoken on behalf of dalits in Madhya Pradesh? She is looking for upper caste votes. When you are fighting polls then you should say that what upper castes are doing is wrong.
In fact no leader is making any comment. Even the creamy layer issue is not being talked about.
There is speculation is on that Maywati is projecting herself as a prime ministerial candidate.
No political party has said so. Her own party members have been spreading this. There are so many corruption cases against her.
A non-BJP alliance which was being earlier talked about is not looking so promising now.
I have been maintaining this from before. There is no vacancy as of now. Are the people of the country fools that they will bring in an unstable formation when you have a strong leader?
Have the Bihar seat-sharing equations been worked out?
Nothing has been finalised as of now. Everything will be decided in due time. It has been a tradition that major parties will decide first.