New Delhi: Thawar Chand Gehlot, the union minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, believes that the violent stir against the alleged dilution of the SC/ST act that engulfed the nation on Monday would come to an end soon as the protesters would come to the realisation that there is nothing to protest about.
Drawing to a parallel to the protests against the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period drama Padmaavat, the minister said that when the Rajputs finally watched the film, they found that there was nothing offensive about the portrayal of Queen Padamavti or Rajputs.
Similarly, he said, Dalits would realise they were wrong in thinking that the Narendra Modi government does not stand by them as the Centre has filed a review petition against the Supreme Court’s ruling that did away with immediate arrests in complaints filed under provisions of the SC/ST act.
The March 20 ruling had been met with disapproval from Dalit groups, activists, opposition parties and from NDA allies too, but the Centre’s perceived delay in filing a review petition caused the anger to spiral out of control, leading to the deaths of eight people and arrests of thousands of people in several states during Monday’s Bharat Bandh.
Gehlot speaks to News18’s Eram Agha on the Bharat Bandh, the politicisation of the protests, the steps government has taken to benefit SCs and STs, and more.
Bharat Bandh took a violent turn. Are you worried that it will cause the perception that the government is against SC/STs?
The SC/STs have joined BJP in big numbers and if we see the number of representatives from the SC ST background in the Parliament and State Assemblies, if we count the number of MLAs and MPs from the SC/ST background, we will know that BJP has their support. Some political parties thought that SC/ STs are with them. They created a false narrative and misconception about it but the fact is these sections are with us. No matter how hard they try, truth cannot be suppressed.
But what about the protests?
The people are upset with the Supreme Court’s decision. But the government has filed a review petition, and we will convince the people agitating about it. This is very similar to the agitation at the time of Padmaavat movie. People protested against the film. After the movie was released, they realized there was nothing to worry about. In this case as well, people are saying there is something wrong but after the government filing the review petition they will find that they were wrong in resorting to violence, and there was nothing to protest about.
Do you think the protests are politically motivated? Mayawati said that if government had acted on time then this would not have happened.
Around eight days ago, I informed the countrymen through media that the government will file the review petition in this case of dilution of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. We said that the government will do this, and there will be no need to come on streets. Under Narendra Modi’s leadership the rights of SC/STs are protected – haque aur hit banaa rahega (rights and benefits will be maintained). All that the Constitution grants to SC/STs will be protected.
I had also said that there will be need to protest. But even then this is what is happening… I mean look at it, we are seeing other political leaders entering the protests. It is quite apparent that the protests are politically motivated.
According to Rahul Gandhi it is in the DNA of BJP/RSS to oppress the SC/STs – what do you have to say?
I have some points to make, and would like to ask Congress – why didn’t they do all of this? Firstly, the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 has nothing to do with Congress. This was brought in the time of VP Singh, who had the support of the BJP in 1989.
Secondly, it was realized that there were gaps in the Act – why didn’t the Congress do anything to improve the provisions? Thirdly, there was a decision taken in 1997 that had an adverse effect on reservations of SCs and STs.
That government had the support of BSP and SP. If they wanted, they could have filed a review petition. It was either at the time of IK Gujral or HD Deve Gowda. But no review was filed. In 2000, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister the provisions were improved upon.
They did not respect Dr BR Ambedkar – he was given Bharat Ratna in VP Singh’s time. Narendra Modi government celebrated a year-long Ambedkar Jayanti, and on Republic Day there was a tableau on his life. This government identified the places important to BR Ambedkar’s journey and identified them as Panchteerth. This government has filed a review petition, why didn’t congress do all of this? The government has also improved the budgetary allowance for sections of SCs and STs.
How did you reach this stage where you were forced to file a review petition?
When Supreme Court gave the verdict on the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989, it was taken seriously by the government. They thought over it. I sent a file to the law ministry and after much of vichar vimarsh (discussion), the ministry allowed the review petition to be filed.
The review petition work had started but we had a long break of four days. Today is the first working day after the break, and we started with filing the review petition.
What do you think about UGC’s quota policy that will reduce the number of SC/ST’s in teaching posts?
I have written to the minister of human resource development, Prakash Javadekar. He has said there will be a rollback and reservation will be given by considering the university as a unit and not a department. We will take this matter to the court as well.