For 15 years, BJP tried to destroy people’s movements

Rakesh Diwan (64) is one of the best known Gandhian social activists in Madhya Pradesh, striving to offer an inclusive development model in the state. Diwan is also a founder-member of MP Election Watch, the Madhya Pradesh chapter of the Association for Democratic Rights (ADR), which seeks electoral reforms. Diwan tells DH’s Rakesh Dixit given the bipolar election contest, he views Congress as the lesser evil.

What does this election mean to you?

I don’t foresee any revolutionary change in a lot of the oppressed after this election. That said, given the limited choice in the largely bipolar election in the state, I would prefer Congress over BJP.

Why?

Congress may not have done much to address the problems of the oppressed, but its governments in the past have shown empathy with their causes.

And the BJP?

Ever since the BJP came to power 15 years ago, its cadre and its administration have tried to systematically destroy people’s movements in the state, be it the Narmada Bachao Andolan or the other ones working for the rights of tribals and Dalits.

Political outfits have come up to protect the rights of Dalits and tribals, such as BSP, the Gondwana Gantantra Party or the recently–born Jai Adivasi Yuva Sangthan (Jays). How have they done?

These outfits have let down the people whose uplift they claim to espouse. Our experience is that their leaders are more interested in power than improving a lot of the people they claim to represent. In Madhya Pradesh, we have 21% Dalit and 23% tribal population. We have 35 seats reserved for SC and 47 for ST. Yet, no leader of the stature from these two communities have emerged to challenge the status-quoism that the BJP and the Congress seek to foster.

You are also a founder-member of MP Election Watch. Has its intervention helped achieve election reforms?

Yes, it is due to our pressure on civil society, the government and the Election Commission of India that political parties have become wary of fielding candidates with criminal records or the ones notorious for money and muscle power. Candidates are now forced to advertise their criminal records, if any, while filing nomination papers, besides showing their assets. This is a major election reform. We have also achieved this reform in the local body and panchayat level elections in Madhya Pradesh by getting the state election commissioner to agree to our demand.  

But parties still tend to field candidates with better prospects of winning, regardless of their shady antecedents.

True, but the situation is improving. You must have noticed that political parties are beginning to vet candidates on the basis of their reputation in society. Still, what you say is true.

Unless the voter is aware enough to reject such candidates, we cannot cleanse the polity of criminals and money and muscle power.

Do you see this happening?

Civil society’s intervention is growing in Madhya Pradesh and it augurs well for society as a whole. We have, for instance, educated people from various walks of life as members of MP Election Watch. They include retired IAS/IPS officers, social activists and journalists.

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For 15 years, BJP tried to destroy people’s movements

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