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Centre on offensive as Rahul Gandhi woos SP, BSP on Dalit row

Prasad claims 3 parties wrecked country’s peace

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Ravi Shankar Prasad and Rahul Gandhi
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A fierce war of words broke out across north and south India on Sunday between the BJP-led government at the Centre and Opposition parties over the issue of Dalits.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Congress, SP and BSP supported violence and disrupted the peace of the country.

Eleven people had been killed as thousands of Dalits carried out violent protests across northern states on April 2 against the alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act.

"The Opposition is playing politics in Dalit icon BR Ambedkar's name. Our party is working to strengthen the SC/ST Act. This is being opposed by Rahul Gandhi," Prasad said at a press conference here.

"Ambedkar said Dalit movements should never be violent. The rights of Dalits must be protected but the medium cannot be violence," said Prasad.

This was after BSP chief Mayawati said the success of the protests has left BJP scared of Dalits. "The protest was largely successful. Authorities in BJP-ruled states have started atrocities towards Dalits. Many Dalits and members of their families are being arrested," she said at a presser in Lucknow.

"Now things have come to such a pass that Dalits cannot even protest. They are being targeted for protesting, and video footage show authorities implicating them."

Union Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot, a prominent Dalit face of BJP, who was also with Prasad, took on Mayawati.

Gehlot said, "(Her mentor and BSP founder) Kanshi Ram Ji never believed in violence but today Mayawati is walking towards that path."

The two Ministers said BJP was the only "pro-Dalit" party and accused Gandhi of fuelling the fire with his "lies and rumour-mongering". They, however, parried questions on the statements of several Dalit MPs of their party.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi hit back in Bengaluru and said that BJP would definitely lose the 2019 elections, and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi might lose his Varanasi seat, if Congress, SP and BSP were united against him.

"In fact, I challenge him to stand against three parties united," he said. "Frankly, I don't see BJP winning, so in 2019, we will go back to the normal, I sense," he said in reply to a question on "Dalit anger."

BJP MPs will observe fast on April 12 in their constituencies against Congress after Parliament's Budget Session that began on January 29 ended in a near-washout on Friday because of disruptions.

Congress asked all its state units, MPs and MLAs to hold a nationwide fast on April 9 to protest BJP's "destroying" Parliamentary democracy.

Modi said on Wednesday that his government is working for the poorest of the poor in a mission mode, claiming "no regime has honoured Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar" like it has. He also hit out at political parties for "politicising" the Dalit icon's legacy.

The PM sought to address the anger of Dalits and said his government has given Ambedkar his rightful place by completing projects conceived in his memory.

The April 2 protests had been organised against the Supreme Court's March 20 order that banned automatic arrests under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, and held that a court can grant anticipatory bail in case of false complaints.

Dalit organisations and some political parties, including Congress, have feared the "dilution" would spike violence against Dalits. The government moved the court on the day of clashes for the order's review — a move termed too late by the Opposition.

On Tuesday, the court refused to freeze its decision and said its intention was to protect individual rights. The court will continue hearing the case.

BARBS FLY THICK AND FAST

CONGRESS, SP & BSP have supported violence and disrupted India’s peace. BJP is strengthening the SC/ST Act, but Rahul is opposing it, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

CENTRE ALSO fielded Dalit face TC Gehlot to take on criticism. Both said BJP was the only ‘pro-Dalit’ party and alleged Rahul was fuelling fire with his ‘lies’.

THEY, HOWEVER, ducked questions on the statements of Dalit MPs of their party.

CONGRESS PRESIDENT Rahul Gandhi said BJP would definitely lose in the 2019 General Elections, and even PM Modi might lose Varanasi, if Congress, SP and BSP were united against him.  

Frankly, I don’t see BJP winning, so in 2019, we will go back to the normal, I sense, he said in reply to a question on Dalit anger.

IN FACT, I challenge him (PM Modi) to stand (from Varanasi) against the three parties united, he said.

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