The move to amend the stringent SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Centre's delay in its response to the Supreme Court’s initial order to evict tribals from their lands are the two issues that could hamper the BJP’s prospects in the reserved seats in the Lok Sabha elections.
The saffron party had performed exceptionally well in these seats in the last general elections. In 2014, the BJP had won 66 of the 131 seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) - 84 -and Scheduled Tribes (STs) - 67. In the politically important states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, the party won a sizeable chunk of the reserved seats.
In UP, it emerged victorious in all 17 reserved seats. Similarly, in MP, it won all 10 reserved seats.
With the two issues gaining prominence just ahead of the polls, experts said that the voters of the two communities would give a befitting reply.
“The Dalits are waiting to ‘lynch’ the BJP. It is difficult to say whether the BJP can replicate its 2014 performance in the reserved seats. One must remember that not all reserved seats have a sizeable SC or ST population. The SC/ST Act Amendment that came up in the Supreme Court and the Centre’s stance on it will work against the BJP. They are going to be blown away wherever there is a significant Dalit population and not necessarily in the reserved seats,” Chandra Bhan Prasad, Dalit ideologue said.
However, experts stopped short of predicting if the BJP’s numbers in these seats would fall significantly. “No one can predict the mind of the voter,” he added.
The Centre had diluted the SC/ST Act thereby leading to a massive backlash from the Dalit community. Several people died in the subsequent protests. The SC interim order on the eviction of tribal families and other Adivasi families living on forest lands was bound to affect millions of households. The issue is already playing up ahead of the polls.
Tribal leaders stressed that the Centre’s delay in approaching the apex court over the eviction would play on the minds of the voters.
“The SC decision on evictions of the tribals seems to be politically motivated and those responsible for it will have to pay a heavy price. Once the sentiments and the well-being of a community are altered by a government, it has to face the consequences,” Rajendra Kumar, an official of the Samta Sainik Dal said.
The organisation was set up by Dr BR Ambedkar in 1927 for the upliftment of tribals and Dalits.