- The Paswans threatened they will join protests by Dalit groups next month
- They want removal of Justice AK Goel as chief of green tribunal
- The judge was part of bench accused of diluting the Dalit protection law
In more alliance trouble for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, union minister Ram Vilas Paswan and his son Chirag Paswan have served an ultimatum over the appointment of a retired judge they say acted against Dalit interests. The Paswans have threatened that their Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will join anti-government protests by Dalit organisations on August 9 if their demands are not met.
Mr Paswan's party wants the government to bring an ordinance or executive order to restore stringent arrest rules in the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) law for the protection of Dalits. A Supreme Court bench in March scrapped a provision in the law for immediate arrest. The Paswans also want the government to cancel the appointment of one of the judges in that bench, retired Justice AK Goel, as the chief of the National Green Tribunal.
On April 2, nearly a dozen people died in violence that flared up across five states when Dalit groups called for a Bharat Bandh or nationwide shutdown to protest against the Supreme Court order.
"If our demand is not met by August 9, then LJP will join Dalit protesters and we could see a repeat of April 2," Chirag Paswan told NDTV.
"Our support to the NDA is issue-based," added the 34-year-old actor-turned-politician, whose father Ram Vilas Paswan is Food Minister in PM Modi's government.
BJP sources call it posturing by the Paswans to consolidate their support-base.
"The BJP is very firm that the SC/ST atrocities prevention act should not be diluted in any form. We assure that the rights of the people belonging to SC/ST categories will not be affected. We are with our ally on this issue," said BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal.
Despite his warning, Chirag Paswan says the LJP will not walk out of the BJP-led alliance like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). "We will fight for Dalit rights as part of the government. We will remain in the NDA," Paswan junior said. The Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu quit the NDA in March, citing the "unfulfilled promise" for special status for Andhra Pradesh.
Asked whether his party would quit the coalition if the demands were not met, Chirag Paswan said: "We have complete faith in the government. I am sure it will be resolved."
If not, he added, "we will cross the bridge when we come to it."
Chirag Paswan had yesterday written to PM Modi demanding Justice Goel's removal from the green court. "In case bringing a bill is not possible at this point, it should be done through an (executive order or) ordinance," he wrote.
Dalit anger against the BJP has left its allies nervous ahead of the 2019 election, especially in states like Bihar, where the community constitutes 16 per cent of the votes and has been deeply disenchanted over the government's response to the Supreme Court order.
The LJP is the latest ally to needle the government in an election year. Apart from a constantly carping Shiv Sena - the BJP's oldest ally and worst critic - the party has also had a rough patch with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who dumped the RJD last year to revive his ties with the BJP, a party he had ended all ties with in 2013, over the elevation of Narendra Modi.