The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shinde offers to step down

Mumbai, July 16: Spiralling cases of Dalit atrocities in Maharashtra have forced chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to offer to resign “if it helps matters”.

The Dalit safety issue rocked the Assembly’s monsoon session again today, leaving Shinde no choice but to stick his neck out. Only yesterday, an 11-year-old Dalit girl was kidnapped and killed in Aurangabad. Some time ago, upper caste men in Hatkeli village in Raigad denied them access to a village well.

The chief minister, who had offered to resign during a tumultuous meeting of Democratic Front MLAs last night, said he would step down if it helps matters in the party and outside.

“I have said that if attacks on Dalits stop with my resignation, I will do so,’’ Shinde said, unhappy that his promise to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act to tackle such cases had failed to satisfy the Assembly.

Rattled by the reaction of Shinde, who is just finding his feet in the cabinet after former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's resignation, senior Congressmen began an elaborate damage control exercise.

Legislators in the Congress or even the coalition are not unhappy with Shinde, state parliamentary affairs minister Patangrao Kadam said. “He complete confidence of the legislature party and is the undisputed leader.’’

AICC general secretary Vayalar Ravi said in Delhi “one should not read too much into Shinde’s offer to resign in view of alleged atrocities on Dalits in the state.’’

He said Shinde’s resignation threat “only speaks about his expression of sincerity, determination and resolve to protect Dalits in the state.’’

But armed with damning statistics, Maharashtra Opposition members bayed for Shinde’s blood. That he is a Dalit and has Chhagan Bhujbal, a Mali belonging to the backward caste, as his deputy has not helped.

Congress sources said even partymen had not spared Shinde, urging him to take up the matter or “face a state-wide rebuttal during elections”.

Congress leaders feel that at a time when the Shiv Sena is going all out to woo Dalits and forge a Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti coalition, the ruling party should not be seen as ignoring the downtrodden. At a recent Sena introspection meet, Uddhav Thackeray had made a public appeal to Dalits to join his party. He also said a “good number” of Dalit outfits were willing to join hands with the Sena for next year’s elections.

Sensing the mood among the Dalits, the BJP-Sena combine is sharpening its claws. BJP leader Gopinath Munde said there have been 39 instances of attacks on Dalits since April and that “Maharashtra has surpassed Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in this”.

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