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Wankhede or Punjab or Bengal, why Dalit rights panel is accused of being partisan to BJP

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes is a statutory body but critics claim it only highlights atrocities on Dalits in opposition-ruled states. 

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New Delhi: An investigation into whether Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) officer Sameer Wankhede forged his Schedule Caste (SC) certificate is yet to be concluded, but the controversial officer has already received some high-profile endorsement and a “clean chit”. 

This came from Arun Haldar, the vice-chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), who visited Wankhede’s residence on 31 October. 

“A revolutionary is being maligned. He is waging a war against the menace called drugs. I personally visited his home on his request and saw all the documents. His father also presented some 20-year-old records,” Haldar told ThePrint.

“The family belongs to the Scheduled Caste community; only his mother was a Muslim. How can such a high-ranking official hoodwink all the people for such a long time?” Haldar added.

“I am saying from my personal experience that Nawab Malik is exacting revenge on the behalf of his son-in-law. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) validates all the documents before joining on such posts,” he said. “How can it be a fake one? Still all of this will be crystal clear once the investigation is over.”

When asked what documents he saw on the basis of which he provided a clean chit to Wankhede, Haldar said, “I am saying this on the basis of my own experience. He has also shown all the documents to the commission, which have been forwarded to the Maharashtra government for further verification.”

Haldar’s backing of the officer when the probe is underway prompted Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik, who had accused Wankhede of forging his SC certificate, to question the motives of the NCSC member who is also a BJP leader from West Bengal. 

Malik has been taking on Wankhede, the NCB zonal director instrumental in the arrest of  actor Shahrukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan in a drugs related case. 

The Maharashtra minister also threatened to complain to the President about Haldar’s conduct. 

Following this, the NCSC chairman Vijay Sampla summoned Wankhede to his office in Delhi last Monday (1 November), where the latter was told to present his certificates for the validation of his caste credentials. 

This, however, isn’t the only time that Haldar and the SC Commission have been under the scanner of what critics see as partisan behaviour in favour of the ruling BJP.  

Only last week, the Commission had reprimanded the Congress-led Punjab government for not providing any kind of assistance to Dalit Sikh Lakhbir Singh’s family after he was brutally murdered, allegedly by some Nihangs at the Singhu border.

Sampla had accused the Punjab government of politicking in similar cases occurring in other states but staying silent on the troubles of Dalits in its own state. By that time, though, the Congress government in Punjab had already arrested four of the accused. 

In the last five months, the Commission has put the Punjab government in the dock in at least three cases.

In June, the NCSC had issued a notice to the Punjab government in a case of a scuffle involving a woman worker. In this case, clashes had taken place over the unpaid wages of some workers in Mansa. In September, the Commission again targeted officials of the Punjab government for not providing any assistance in the case of the death of a Dalit youth.

Then, again in September, the NCSC had issued another notice to the state for not investigating an attack on Dalits who were agitating in Batala. It threatened to take action against the authorities concerned if they did not act in time. 

Punjab isn’t alone. The NCSC has also been accused of meddling in West Bengal. 

Following the BJP’s crushing defeat in the assembly elections earlier this year, party MPs had urged the Commission to review the post-poll violence in West Bengal. 

In May, the NCSC held a two-day visit to East Bardhaman and South 24 Parganas districts, despite Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition. Following the visit, Sampla claimed that for the first time since 1947, there were rapes and murders in West Bengal, with the state watching on.  

Also read: Punjab’s Dalits are shifting state politics, flocking churches, singing Chamar pride

‘Ignores atrocities on Dalits in BJP-ruled states’

Opposition leaders allege that this has become the Commission’s playbook — highlighting cases in opposition-ruled states, while turning a blind to atrocities on Dalits in BJP-ruled ones. 

“Just days ago, a Dalit family in Kutch was attacked by a mob of 20 people when they tried to enter a temple. Police have also lodged an FIR in the case,” a Congress MP from Gujarat told ThePrint. “But the Commission has not sought any kind of response from the Gujarat government.”

“In Gujarat there are so many cases of atrocities against Dalits, but the Commission has neither visited the state to investigate nor has it sent a notice to the government,” Gujarat leader and Vadgam MLA, Jignesh Mevani, told ThePrint.

“There are cases of atrocities against Dalits registered against many BJP leaders, but in such cases, the Commission always prefers to turn a blind eye.”

The NCSC has also earned the ire of farmer unions for attempting to mediate in the agitation against the three farm laws. 

In September, Sampla had travelled to Nanaksar Dera to meet its head Baba Lakha Singh, in a bid to get him to act as an intermediary, an action vehemently opposed by the farmers’ unions. Earlier, in January, Sampla had also facilitated a meeting between Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar and Lakha.  

‘Political commission’ 

The NCSC is a statutory body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment but it’s appointees have mostly been political.

Before being appointed as its vice-chairman, Arun Haldar was a secretary in the BJP’s Bengal Unit and had also served as the president of the state BJP’s SC Morcha. Apart from contesting municipal elections, he was also a candidate in the state assembly election. 

Sampla is a prominent Dalit BJP face from Punjab. He was the president of the BJP’s Punjab unit during Amit Shah’s tenure as the president of the party. Sampla was denied a ticket in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. At that time, Sampla had said he had been slaughtered like a cow. Later on, he was ‘rehabilitated’ as the NCSC chief. 

Among other members of the commission, Anju Bala is a former BJP MP from Misrikh in UP, while Subhash Pardhi has served as the president of SC Morcha of the Maharashtra BJP.  

Before Sampla, Ramshankar Katheria, who was a BJP MP from Agra, was the chairperson of the Commission. The BJP’s former Tamil Nadu unit president L. Murugan, who is now a minister of state in the Union Cabinet, was the vice-chairman during Katheria’s tenure. 

The situation, however, was no different in the Congress era. During the UPA regime, Congress’ P.L. Punia was twice appointed as the chairperson of the commission. Before Punia, Buta Singh — another seasoned Congress leader — had held the position. 

During the Vajpayee years, the BJP’s prominent Dalit face Suraj Bhan was the NCSC chief. Bhan, in fact, was the first person to hold the post after it was accorded statutory status in February 2004.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

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