The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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After cake, battle over Dalits

Bhopal, April 26: They have locked horns over the cow, battled over Bhojshala and quibbled over the cake. Now the Congress and the BJP have decided to slug it out over Dalits in a state that has the worst record of atrocities against the weaker sections.

Going by the war of words, it is clear that while the BJP iskeen on a pan-Indian Hindu identity for Dalits, the Congress wants to project itself as a party that has traditionally championed the cause of the backward classes.

The one-upmanship between the two comes at a time when over 7,000 Dalits in Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal region have applied for gun licences, having almost lost faith in the caste-sensitive state police.

According to the National Crime Bureau and figures with human rights organisations, incidents of atrocities against Dalits in Madhya Pradesh are exactly double the national average. The Digvijay Singh government, however, sees it from another point of view. He believes that Dalits now feel more secure to report crimes to police stations.

On the other side of the spectrum, the BJP today finalised its “Mhow Declaration” that recommends job quota in the private sector, 36 per cent procurement from Dalit entrepreneurs in state-own agencies and a series of welfare measures.

But it glossed over the fact that the Centre had slashed budgetary grants for Scheduled Castes from Rs 944 crore to Rs 810 crore, stopped overseas scholarship for Dalit students and that the Central government-run Ambedkar Foundation continues to be a defunct body.

The battle over Dalits follows the Bhojshala standoff over opening the gates of the monument to Hindus for worship, the race to outdo each other on cow-slaughter ban and the spat over the contents of Uma Bharti’s cake offering to Hanuman.

Yesterday, state BJP activists had burnt copies of the “Bhopal Declaration”, a highly acclaimed document adopted in January 2002 that Digvijay and his party chief Sonia Gandhi feel is the best thing that has happened during the Congress rule. The BJP’s anger is over a reference in page 37-38 of the document that acknowledged the Dalit tendency to embrace Buddhism.

The party is upset over Digvijay’s move to clandestinely circulate copies of the declaration during the BJP meet in Mhow yesterday and today. Asked if he had indeed done so, Digvijay avoided a direct answer but said there was no harm in discussing or debating a document that had several path-breaking measures for Dalit empowerment.

“The move to burn copies of the Dalit agenda indicates their violent mindset,” the chief minister countered. He said that by burning a document that promised to remove social discriminations, the BJP had revealed its frustration and “anti-Dalit” traits.

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