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regular-article-logo Friday, 24 May 2024

PM Modi's ‘400-plus’ cry for polls sparks fear among Rajasthan dalits over reservation benefits

While the Opposition has long been alleging that Modi plans to change the Constitution if he returns for a third term, a remark by a key BJP candidate seems to have fuelled apprehensions that such amendments would include the axing of reservations

J.P. Yadav Jaipur-Dausa Published 15.04.24, 06:29 AM
The ‘Meena High Court’ in Nangal Rajawatan, Dausa district of Rajasthan, where key issues of the tribal community are settled.

The ‘Meena High Court’ in Nangal Rajawatan, Dausa district of Rajasthan, where key issues of the tribal community are settled. Picture by JP Yadav

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive push for “chaar sau paar” Lok Sabha seats, aimed at demoralising the Opposition, threatens to boomerang in several seats in BJP-ruled Rajasthan.

Large sections of Dalit and tribal communities in the state fear that a third Modi government might use a “400-plus” majority to amend the Constitution and withdraw the benefits of reservation that they have been enjoying.

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While the Opposition has long been alleging that Modi plans to change the Constitution if he returns for a third term, a remark by a key BJP candidate seems to have fuelled apprehensions that such amendments would include the axing of reservations.

“Several tough decisions need to be taken in the country’s interest and for that we have to make constitutional amendments,” the BJP candidate for Nagaur seat, Jyoti Mirdha, purportedly said in an election speech whose video has gone viral.

Mirdha, a Congress turncoat, went on to say that the BJP needed a sizeable majority in both Houses of Parliament to be able to amend the Constitution and take “big decisions”.

To many among the Dalit and tribal communities, the most tangible feature of the Constitution that influences their lives is the reservation policy. Besides, the Congress has been flagging the Mirdha video to accuse the BJP of planning to abolish reservations.

Added to that is a general perception that the RSS is anti-reservation, although the organisation’s chief, Mohan Bhagwat, last year tried to allay such suspicions.

“Modi chaar sau paar, chaar sau paar, kyon chilla rahe hai? BJP samvidhan badalna chahti hai kya? Reservation khatam karna chahti hai kya (Why is Modi harping on 400-plus seats? Does the BJP want to change the Constitution? Do they want to end reservations)?” asked Shyam Meena, an engineering graduate, at Bassi on the Jaipur-Dausa highway.

A tea-and-juice stall owner at the Bassi market, Jugal Meena, pulled out his phone to play the video of Mirdha’s speech.

Ye dekhiye, Jyoti Mirdha saaf bol rahi hai ki samvidhan badlenge (See this, Jyoti Mirdha is clearly saying that the Constitution will be changed),” he said.

Meenas, designated as a Scheduled Tribe, can be extremely sensitive to the frequent allegation that they are well-off and are unduly enjoying the benefits of reservation. Meenas are influential in Rajasthan not just because of their numbers but also because many of them hold key positions in the administration.

Similar fears have spread also among Scheduled Caste communities with large populations such as the Meghwals and Bairwals, prompting the BJP to deploy its Dalit and tribal leaders to fire-fight.

Modi himself took the lead at a rally in Barmer on Friday, blaming the Opposition’s “false propaganda” for the fears about an end to reservations. He accused the Opposition of insulting Ambedkar.

“As far as the Constitution is concerned, even if Babasaheb Ambedkar himself comes, he cannot abolish it,” Modi said.

“The Constitution is the Gita, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Bible and the Quran for the government. For us the Constitution is everything.”

A day before Modi’s Barmer rally, Rajasthan agriculture minister Kirorilal Meena, regarded as the tallest politician from the community, held a meeting of Meena caste leaders in Nangal Rajawatan, Dausa.

“He (Kirorilal) told the community elders that the Opposition’s campaign about the BJP planning to change the Constitution and ending reservations was baseless,” Anil Meena, an associate of Kirorilal, told The Telegraph.

“He told the elders they should go back to their villages and ensure that all the Meenas back the BJP.”

The meeting was held on the sprawling compound of a structure that is popularly known as the “high court” of the Meena community.

At the meeting, Kirorilal threatened to quit as minister if the BJP lost the Dausa Lok Sabha seat, trying to push his community members to vote for the party.

Angering the Meenas could cost the BJP not just in Dausa but also in Nagaur, Churu and Sikar.

“A clean sweep in Rajasthan looks impossible this time. We could lose four to five seats, at least,” a BJP leader in Jaipur said.

The BJP had won all the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan in 2019.

(Rajasthan votes in the first two phases, on April 19 and 26)

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