Gwalior/Bhind (Madhya Pradesh): The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing electoral hurdles in its attempt to retain power for the fourth consecutive term in Madhya Pradesh, with rebel party members and the Samanya Pichda Alpsankhyak Karamchari Sansthan (SAPAKS) expected to wean away voters.

The biggest challenge for the party is from the newly-formed SAPAKS, which has fielded at least 120 candidates and supported another 40 independents. The Madhya Pradesh assembly polls, scheduled on 28 November, will elect 230 members.

SAPAKS claims to represent the aspirations of upper caste voters, mainly Brahmins and Rajputs, who constitute 15-17% of the state’s voters and who have been ardent supporters of the BJP.

The political party came into existence to protest against the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Atrocities Act (SC/ST Act), which gives protection to socially weaker sections from other castes. Members of the organization are also protesting against the reservation given to Dalits and tribals in jobs and education.

“We are contesting 120 seats and supporting 40 independent candidates who agree with our ideology to oppose the SC/ST Act and reservations. These steps taken by the Union government and state government to pass the SC/ST Act is an attempt to divide the society. We are not supporting any political party, but we will oppose anyone who supports reservation and SC/ST Act," said Hira Lal Trivedi, convener of SAPAKS.

Although the extent of its electoral reach is still unclear, members of the organization are confident that they will be able to create an impact and force political parties to tow their line, abolishing reservation for Dalits and tribals and the SC/ST Act.

“Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had said that nobody can dare stop reservations for Dalits and tribals and the government will never abolish the SC/ST Act. This time, we will ensure that the state government and Union government get the message that they cannot take the votes of upper castes for granted. There is anger against the BJP and we want to change this government," said Neeraj Singh Rathore, the representative of SAPAKS in Gwalior.

In the last few days, SAPAKS has addressed small meetings and been involved in door-to-door campaigns in areas which have a majority population of Brahmins and Rajputs. The upper caste community fears that the SC/ST Act will be misused against them by giving undue advantage to Dalits and tribals to file cases against people committing atrocities.

“Everybody is talking about the decision of the government to support reservation and not to abolish SC/ST Act. It will play a major role when people go out to vote. We pay taxes, we pay for the education of Dalits and tribals, we are subsidizing the education for Dalits and tribals, and now they are getting jobs, but our children do not get government jobs because of reservation," said Karan Singh Tomar, a 47-year-old farmer in Gohad constituency.

Another cause for worry for the BJP is the number of members who have rebelled against the party and have decided to contest as independents. In fact the party had to expel at least 64 members who had filed their nomination as independents after they were refused tickets.

Some big names include former ministers Ramkrishna Kusmaria and K.L. Agrawal, former Gwalior mayor Sameeksha Gupta, and members of legislative assembly (MLAs) Rajkumar Mev and Narendra Singh Kushwaha. Even as the BJP took disciplinary action against the 64 members, the party had to work hard to convince another 150 leaders who too had rebelled after failing to get tickets.

“There is a cause for worry because these are our party leaders who have a substantial voter base. It is correct that they may not win on their own without the support of the party, but they can cause damage to the BJP in constituencies by reducing the party’s vote share," said a senior BJP leader who is involved in election campaigning.