Why does Mulayam Singh like the upper castes so much?
At election time, it used to be promises of more benefits for harijans. No longer.
Vote me to power and, in return, I will abolish the Harijan Act: This is Union Defence Minister and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's pledge to the electorate in Uttar Pradesh.
Spurned by the dalit vote bank, Mulayam Singh is now wooing the upper castes. And the carrot he has been dangling is the Harijan Act.
The Protection Against Atrocities on SC and ST Act 1989 was introduced by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Accordingly, a harijan is entitled to a compensation of between Rs 10,000 and Rs 200,000 in case of any upper caste atrocity. Section 4 of the Act provides that the police should act immediately on any such complaints. If not, the official/officials concerned could be imprisoned for anything from six months to three years.
A potent -- and much misused -- law, if ever there was one. And this appears to be Mulayam's trump card today.
In reality, it was former UP chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president Kalyan Singh who first realised the importance of the Act as an election strategy. He even made a few not-so-vociferous promises too. But sensing the potential of the slogan, Mulayam seized it with both hands -- and has been making clamorous promises thereafter. His party's national executive even passed a resolution to the effect.
Can't really blame him. Thanks to the Bahujan Samaj Party, dalit votes are beyond his reach. Mulayam knows that (last week's by-election results proved it beyond doubt), and is now targeting the upper castes, the yadavs and Muslims. He
knows that the militant backward communities like the yadavs, kurmis and
lodhs are also against the Harijan Act.
The Act, SP members hold, is grossly misused today. They say harijans are making false complaints. It has become a racket involving many dalit leaders. The result: Many innocent upper caste men are being harassed and even tortured. In most UP villages, particularly in the central districts, harijans and the yadavs are at each other's throats.
Mulayam had issued thousands of arms licences to yadavs during his reign. Chief Minister Mayawati is now doing the same with the dalits. In such a situation, SP members say, the Act comes in quite handy for the people-in-power.
For the past year, Mulayam has been working to win the upper caste vote. He tried to
cultivate the thakurs by projecting his Man Friday Amar Singh -- on Singh's recommendation, he gave 25 assembly tickets to thakurs last year. Eighteen won.
Now, he has reduced the number of yadav office-bearers in his party. The accent is now on the upper castes, especially brahmins, thakurs and bhoomihars.
The wheel has come full circle.
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