Rajiv Gandhi appeased Muslims for vote bank, Modi is doing nothing different to Dalits by overturning SC order in SC/ST Act.
The great German novelist Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe had said, “A clever man commits no minor blunder.” With the amendment bill to reinstate the original provisions of SC/ST Act, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too is going to commit a major blunder of his tenure. What is surprising about this is, the entire situation is eerily similar to that of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He committed the biggest blunder of his tenure in the Shah Bano case. With a brute majority that he had in both the houses of parliament, he overturned the 1985 Supreme Court judgment banning triple talaq terming it unconstitutional, while opening the door for dangerous precedent for the future governments to follow whenever convenient.
As they say, history repeats itself but it is up to us to learn lessons from it. On March 20, 2018, the Supreme Court while hearing three issues related to misuse of SC/ST Act against government servants ordered that the arrest of a public servant can only be made after approval of the appointing authority. Preventing the automatic arrest provision under the law, the Apex Court ruled that a non-public servant can be arrested after approval by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP).
Further, it said that before filing an FIR under the act, a brief inquiry will have to be conducted. The court also asked the investigating officers to make sure before handed whether the charges fall under the Act or have a political and/or personal agenda behind it. “There is no absolute bar against the grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide,” said the Supreme Court judgment. Not only was the judgment in the line of Section 438 of Criminal Procedure Code (which mandates preliminary inquiry before filing an FIR), but also upheld individual’s innocence until proven guilty. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. Art. 11.1)
However, the Modi government’s disregard towards History has also made it skip the lesson from the debacle of Rajiv Gandhi government in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. Retrospectively speaking, Rajiv Gandhi could have prohibited himself from interfering in the dealings of Apex Court. But even the greatest governments turn imprudent as the election year nears. Rajiv Gandhi feared that the Shah Bano judgment will turn the Muslim Community against the Congress and did the inevitable. Did it help? No. He opened the can of worms, instead. This mollycoddling of a particular community was bound to upset the other community. His government was accused of ‘Minority appeasement’ by Hindu community. To pacify the angry Hindu community, Rajiv Gandhi committed another blunder by allowing Hindus to worship inside Babri Masjid. To balance one wrong act, he committed another one and the domino effect of his mistakes finally led to the Babri Masjid Demolition which threw the country in the pit of worse communal violence, the horrors of which still echo in our memories even two decades later.
The Modi government is going to commit the same mistake. While giving out the verdict on SC/ST Act, the Supreme Court had observed that the act was never meant to be misused for blackmailing or for personal revenge. Justice AK Goel and Justice Uday Lalit who was presiding over the case even noted that the act was introduced to reduce the caste divide in the country, however, it has done the opposite with the indiscreet use of the provisions. The Supreme Court ruling spread wildfire among the Dalit community in the country. A month later, a nationwide Bharat Bandh was observed which led to violent protests in various parts of the country. The pressure was not only from the Dalit masses but also from the allies in the government. Dalit leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan, Ramdas Athawle and even Dalit leaders from BJP summoned the party to act quickly. They were trying to save their own Dalit vote banks.
The Modi government’s conscience started trembling. The government filed a review petition in the court. However, the court on April 3 refused to put a stay on the ruling but said it would consider the Centre’s petition in detail. But the simmering anger in the Dalit community ahead of 2019 elections cast a shadow on the “Anti-appeasement” Modi government. The cabinet has decided to bring an amendment bill in the parliament which will reinstate the original law and dilute the revisions ordered by the Supreme Court.
The bill would a) quash the Supreme Court order that an FIR be lodged only after a gazetted officer conducting a preliminary inquiry; b) introduce a provision that the approval of a senior official would not be needed for arrest; c) the provision of section 438 of CrPC would be inapplicable to cases registered under SC/ST Prevention of atrocities act. Won’t this rabid appeasement of Dalit community anger the other communities? To equate, Congress appeased Muslims for vote bank, Modi is doing nothing different to Dalits.
The Modi government is walking on a two-edged sword here. Maharashtra has been reeling under the Maratha Morcha. The community is majorly demanding the dilution of atrocious provisions in the SC/ST Act. One of the demands of the community also includes reservation in education and government jobs. The protest has turned even violent with the suicide deaths of Maratha youths. But not only the Modi government is amending the SC/ST Act but also has filed a review petition in Supreme Court favoring reservation to SCs and STs in the promotion. It is bound to upset Maratha community. This vicious chain does not end here. Would Modi government repeat the history and commit another irrevocable mistake? We can’t deny the possibility.
What effect will it have on the nation in entirety? Rajiv Gandhi had the golden opportunity to show the true statesmanship by standing firm on the SC decision, but he thought of elections instead. Modi still has the golden opportunity with him. This is his chance to act like a statesman and pull our future generation from the venom of caste divide. Will he?