The amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2018 is a move in the right direction. However, no matter how strong a piece of legislation is, all will depend on how well it is implemented.

If the implementing agency does not do its bit then the legislative effort would not be successful in the long run. The administrative set up, which includes police machinery, investigating agencies and judiciary, has to work together to effectively implement such a law.

The core of the problem is that whether there is strong legislation or not, atrocities against Dalits and tribals have continued to take place. The Dalit community have supported the new law. However, it is very unlikely that they will give the entire credit to the government for introducing the amendments. The view on the ground is that Dalits had to run a strong campaign to ensure that it happens.

Politically, the amended Act is an attempt by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to reach out to the Dalit community which has been upset with the government in the past few months. The message that has gone out is that the government has been insensitive particularly towards the Dalits and the marginalized. In order to address that, the government took quick steps to amend the provisions of the law which had earlier drawn sharp criticism.

At first blush, it looks like that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will draw political gain from it. However, there are two key problems. One is that Dalits feel they had to fight it out for their rights. They think they had to force the government to act on it. There is a feeling that without the pressure, the government would not have relented or done much with a sense of urgency.

Politically, the second problem is that there is a large section of Dalits who feel that despite such efforts (the government has taken a lot of other pro-Dalit measures too), they do not trust the intentions of the ruling party.

If we talk about the opposition, they want to show that it was the Congress party, its chief Rahul Gandhi, and other opposition parties whose efforts forced the government to take a step back and review the law. They would want to reap political and electoral benefits from it and are likely to publicize it in their campaigns.

On its part, the BJP would want to politically consolidate the move ahead of 2019 general elections. The focus is important because the Dalit community is a key electoral base in the politically crucial states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The opposition would try to do the same and it would eventually be interesting to see who is able to build the narrative in its favour.

Politically, a counter-productive argument for the BJP is that the more they harp on the issue, the higher the chances of alienating the upper castes or savarnas. In fact, the more the upper castes raise this issue, the more likely that Dalits are going to come closer to the BJP. Ahead of 2019 general elections, it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

Badri Narayan is an Allahabad-based political analyst.

Close