Facing protests by the upper-caste community, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Thursday said nobody in the state would be arrested under the SC/ST Act without a thorough investigation being conducted first.
"Misuse of the law will not be allowed in this state. A case will be registered only after a thorough probe. A directive will be issued to this end shortly," he told reporters during an event in Chhindwara. He was reacting to the ongoing protests against parliament restoring some of the stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill-2018 last month.
A number of upper-caste groups had called for a nationwide shutdown on September 6 to protest against parliament restoring the SC/ST Act provisions. The agitation received a good response in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.
Upper-caste groups were not impressed by Mr Chouhan's assurance. "The Chief Minister's statement is just a political stunt in view of the assembly elections, which are just around the corner. He has been forced to say this in view of the 100 per cent success of the September 6 bandh, which was a spontaneous expression of people's anger against the SC/ST amendment," said Lalit Shastri, founder-president of the Samanya Alapsankhyak Adhikari Karmachari Sangh.
There have been several instances of the Chief Minister being targeted by these groups, who allege that the ruling BJP is trying to appease SC/ST voters. Members of an organisation opposing the amendments created a commotion at his public rally in Sidhi district on September 2. Protesters also stoned police vehicles in Ujjain on Monday.
Protests were held across the state even on Thursday, when Mr Chouhan gave his assurance on the matter. Members of the Bramha Samagam Sawarna Jankalyan Samaj tried to take out a rally from a temple near the Habibganj Railway Station to Mr Chouhan's residence, but were stopped midway by the police. Protesters then barged into the bungalow of Public Works Department Minister Rampal Singh on Thursday, only to be beaten up by the police.
Dalit groups have also vowed to put pressure on the state administration in this regard. "We will not tolerate any tampering with a law passed by parliament; everything will turn out to be a hoax if that happens. We will definitely hit the streets in protest. If the Chief Minister takes a U-turn on the issue, we will not sit quietly. We will protect the Constitution," said SL Surwanshi, general secretary of the Anusuchit Jati Janjaati Adhikaari Karmachari Sangh.
The opposition Congress condemned Mr Chouhan's statement too. "I perceive this as total surrender by a government under pressure. They first dishonoured and disobeyed the court, and now the parliament," said party leader Bhupendra Gupta.
This makes for a very tricky situation for the ruling party, considering that the scheduled castes constitute 15.2 per cent of the Madhya Pradesh electorate while scheduled tribes account for 20.8 per cent. The BJP had won 28 of the 35 seats reserved for the scheduled castes during the last assembly elections in 2013, and 32 of the 47 reserved for scheduled tribes.
On the other hand, the BJP had bagged 102 of the 148 seats dominated by the OBCs and upper castes.
During his interaction with mediapersons, Mr Chouhan also slammed former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh for filing a court case against him in connection with the Vyapam examination scam.
"The Congress has levelled baseless allegations against me. Politics is built on the foundation of ideas, and I have never defamed anybody. Which direction does the Congress want politics to take? The Congress has always been against peace in Madhya Pradesh," he said, terming Mr Singh's move as an "act of frustration".