Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has stoked controversy for saying nobody in the state will be arrested under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act without an investigation. Bharatiya Janata Party MPs as well as members of the National Democratic Alliance have criticised him.
Chouhan’s statement came after several upper caste and backward caste communities protested against the act. The state will have its Assembly elections this year.
BJP MP and Dalit Morcha chief Vinod Kumar Sonkar said the Madhya Pradesh government should reconsider the “unfortunate decision”. “He has to review his decision, it seems he has done it under some pressure,” Sonkar told The Indian Express. “But he cannot undo the measures taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in protecting the interests of Dalits.”
In March, the Supreme Court had ruled that public servants cannot be arrested immediately after a complaint is filed against them under the atrocities law, seemingly diluting the act’s provisions. At least 11 people died and hundreds were detained during the protests against the Supreme Court order in April.
In August, both Houses of Parliament passed an amendment reversing this order. Several upper-caste organisations had called for a nationwide shutdown earlier this month to protest against the Parliament’s decision.
BJP ally Lok Janshakti Party MP Chirag Paswan opposed Chouhan’s decision. The Lok Janshakti Party had led protests against the Supreme Court’s order in March that diluted various key provisions of the Act.
“He is doing exactly what Mayawati had done in her government in Uttar Pradesh when she decided that no arrest will be made in SC/ST Act without investigation,” Paswan said.
Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale said Chouhan should not have said something that could create insecurity among Dalits. “A chief minister does not belong to any caste. He represents both the upper castes as well as Dalits,” Athawale, leader of Republican Public of India (Athawale), said, according to The Indian Express. “He should change his statement. The Centre has made its stand on the Act very clear. No one can change the law. It’s a central Act and the state cannot change it.”
Several leaders support Chouhan
Chouhan also found some support from party colleagues who said the chief minister’s statement was in consonance with the law passed by Parliament. “What the chief minister said is that the case will be registered after an inquiry and he did not say that it could be done only after the superior officer’s nod,” Bhind MP Bhagirath Prasad said.
BJP MLA Anchal Sonkar said the chief minister’s stand will ensure that the SC/ST Act is not misused. Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawarchand Gehlot backed Chouhan too.