Parties shut out Scheduled Caste candidates from general seats

The Hindu, May 03, 2014

When the Constitution was being framed, an advisory committee determined that members of communities for whom there would be reserved constituencies would not be debarred from contesting ?unreserved? constituencies. Yet today, political parties are not following the spirit of the Constitution, The Hindu?s analysis of data shows.

In both 2004 and 2009, the country?s two biggest political parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, gave tickets to only three Scheduled Caste (SC) candidates between them to contest from ?general? seats, The Hindu found.

This means that the two parties gave less than 1% of their tickets in ?general? seats to SC candidates. Information on the castes of all candidates is available from the Election Commission of India for 2009 and 2004 only.

While only SCs can contest the 84 seats reserved for them and Scheduled Tribes (STs) the 47 seats reserved for them as of 2009, there is no bar on who can contest the 412 ?general? seats in the country. ?The original intent was absolutely not to ghettoise SCs into reserved constituencies only, as most political parties have done,? Badri Narayan, professor at the G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, and a social scientist and expert on Dalit issues, said.

Across the country, the Bahujan Samaj Party is the only political party that gave substantial numbers of tickets to SC candidates in ?general? seats ? 83 of its 333 candidates in open seats in 2004 were SCs. While it still outperformed other major parties in 2009, the BSP?s own record at giving tickets to SCs in general seats slipped in 2009, when it gave 54 of its 381 tickets in general seats to SCs.

?The party follows the ideology of Babasaheb Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and now Mayawatiji, and believes in equal opportunities to people from all castes,? senior BSP leader Sudhindra Bhadoria said.

?The BSP?s social engineering principle drives their political strategy, and believes in expanding Dalit political participation,? Mr. Narayan said.

The vast majority of SCs contesting in ?general? seats are Independents. In 2004, Independents formed 68% of the 674 Dalits who contested the 423 seats that were then un-reserved. In 2009, Independents formed 65% of the 888 Dalits who contested 412 ?general? seats.

Among the States, Tamil Nadu led the pack in 2004, with 22% of all candidates to general seats being SCs, despite none of the major parties in the state nominating Dalits to general seats. In 2009, Maharashtra was slightly ahead of Tamil Nadu at 20%, with several local factions of the Republican Party of India propping up the numbers. In Bihar, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was the exception.

Parties say that ?winnability? is what drives their ticket-giving strategy. In both 2004 and 2009, one of the two SC candidates the Congress put forward in general seats each time won the election. ?What we look for is a person who enjoys good standing in the community and the goodwill of all of the people. It would not be right for us to nominate an SC candidate just to be seen as being inclusive,? Nirmala Sitharaman, national spokesperson of the BJP, said.

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