This study has analyzed the manner in which the Dalit Question, which became politically significant in the Hindi heartland in the 1990s, was addressed by the Congress party in power throughout the decade, and the extent of social change it could introduce for dalits and tribals in MP. The context in which this issue came to occupy centre stage in this region is salient. The Hindi heartland experienced a strong wave of dalit assertion leading to the breakdown of single-party dominance—a feature that had shaped the politics of this region—leading to the emergence of a more competitive political arena and fragmented party system with narrower sectarian parties based on primordial loyalties. This was due to a long-term process of democratization leading to questioning of upper-caste domination and breakdown of established political structures that sustained it. Parallel to it has been liberalization of the Indian economy that has led many to contend that in the present context older state-supported policies of welfare and reservation for weaker sections, cardinal features of our democracy, are no longer as useful, requiring the formulation of new policies better suited to a market economy. These multiple onslaughts on the state during the 1990s have created a new political system in which the role of the state vis-à-vis the lower orders has been questioned and re-defined. At the same time the impact of the process of democratization has been differential on the states of the Hindi heartland leading to diverse patterns of dealing with this shift with differing consequences for state politics.