Punjab elections: Tug-of-war for Dalit Votes

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Jag Mohan Thaken from Chandigarh

Some flag bearers of dirty politics are trying to lay the foundation of a divisive society by destroying the Punjabiyat that has arisen in the midst of the cool and pure waters of five rivers just to win the elections by using fair or unfair means.  Every political party is using religious or caste Brahmastra to grab the bulk of votes by blighting the harmonious fabric of the society. And in this sequence, most of their efforts are being made to woo the Dalit voters to their side. It is worth mentioning that Punjab has the highest number of Dalit voters in the context of the country. According to the 2011 Census of Punjab, the population of Scheduled Caste is 31.9%, OBC is 31.3%, Upper Caste is 30%. First of all, on January 13, Chief Minister Channi had requested the Election Commission to change the date of elections in Punjab from February 14 to February 20 to woo the Dalits. He argued that on the occasion of Guru Ravidas Jayanti on the coming 16th February, about 20 lakh people from Punjab would travel to Uttar Pradesh to participate in the festival to be held in Banaras between 10 and 16 February. In this way, many people of the community will be deprived of their constitutional rights due to not being able to exercise their vote. After this letter, Dalit love started awakening in other parties as well and almost all the parties wrote letters to the Election Commission. The Election Commission also changed the voting date from February 16 to February 20 in the interest of Dalit voters.

In this tug-of-war of Dalit love, who will be able to win, who will consume the nectar that comes out of this ocean churning, this will come to the fore only after the declaration of the election results on March 10, but it is certain that the poison generated by this churning will have to be gulped by the society only.

In alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party, Shiromani Akali Dal is trying to attract Dalit voters in the elections with the promise of giving the post of Deputy Chief Minister to a Dalit person. The flag of Bahujan Samaj is being kept at the fore by Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Badal in his election campaigns. On the other hand, the Congress party has demolished all the parties once in a single move by making Charanjit Singh Channi a  Dalit representative as the Chief Minister. Even though Channi has got this crown on the lines of ‘ Fiscal  pade to Harganga’ (To make the best of a bad bargain)  and perhaps this crown is also temporary. Navjot Sidhu, who ousted Captain Amarinder Singh, was and is sitting hawk-eyed for this crown, but fate did not favour. Last year, after pleasing the new-commander duo of the Congress High Command and cutting the wings of Captain Amarinder, Sidhu got Amarinder removed from the chief minister’s chair, but due to the then prevailing conditions, he could not succeed in getting himself in this fabulous chair. In order to fill in the vacant chair, the new operators of the Congress High Command considered some names, in which Ambika Soni, former state Congress president Sunil Jakhar and  Sardar Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa were thought of , but Charanjit Singh Channi’s name was nowhere in the picture.

The Congress High Command wanted to give this crown to its confidant Ambika Soni, but in the present deteriorating situation, Soni did not want to take the bad days of Congress on her head.  But no other Hindu face should also become her competitor for the future, perhaps she was also keeping this goal in mind. As soon as the name of former state president Sunil Jakhar came in the line, Ambika Soni played her bet that only a Sikh should be given the chief minister’s chair. After Sunil Jakhar’s name was cut, the name of Sardar Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa came in the front row, but Navjot Sidhu’s ears signalled danger in the name of Randhawa and Sidhu started seeing his future bleak in the event of Randhawa’s mentorship. And in this dilemma, the fate of Charanjit Singh Channi jumped out and without any if and buts he got the Chief Minister’s crown. The High Command also found an irresistible arrow to its empty quiver, and it instructed all its drummers to start playing the raga that only Congress, in view of its Dalit love, for the first time in order to give power to the Dalits, has made the Dalit Chief Minister in Punjab and no other party has given this post to any Dalit till date.

Congress National Spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, tweeted on September 19, 2021, “Indian National Congress has created new history by appointing Charanjit Channi as the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab. This decision will strengthen social justice and open new doors of empowerment for downtrodden, backward and underprivileged brothers and sisters across India.”

Commenting over the recent ED raids on the residence of a relative of Chief Minister Channi, Congress is also trying to attract Dalit voters by showing it as an action against the Dalit Chief Minister. In his tweet of January 18, Surjewala writes, “ED of Modi government means Election Department of BJP. The BJP’s craving for vengeance against Charanjit Singh Channi, the only Dalit Chief Minister of India, is  blazing high.”

Rahul Gandhi, the former president of Congress has also commented over the ED raid in a tweet, “Conducting an ED raid is BJP’s favourite weapon because they themselves have things to hide. Not everyone is like you. We have #NoFear.”

Will Congress be able to woo Dalit votes?

After giving the post of Chief Minister to Channi by the Congress, it is definitely visible that the people of the Dalit community seem happy and Channi also trying to prove himself as a common man by going among the lower classes to make them feel their own. And he is also succeeding to some extent in this endeavour. Among those who meet him, the poorest of the poor looks happy, a strange smile appearing on their faces. But how long will this smile last? Will Congress make Channi its chief minister even after the Congress is victorious after the election? On this, political experts believe that Channi has been made chief minister only to run the present job and vote-fetching, if Congress gets a chance again, then Navjot Sidhu will be the chief minister, not Channi.

There is murmuring in the public as well and if the suspicion of this is confirmed in the Dalit community, then the dream of Congress being in power can be shattered. The Congress High Command should immediately announce its Chief Minister’s face, otherwise the longer the delay, the more the suspicion of Channi not being made the Chief Minister will grow stronger and the hand of the Congress will go away from power.

Attempts to lure Dalits backfired for AAP

Aam Aadmi Party’s efforts to woo Dalit voters seems to backfire. The garlanding of Dr Ambedkar’s statue by Aam Aadmi Party’s declared chief ministerial candidate, Bhagwant Mann on January 24 has become the subject of controversy and some opposition parties are taking this opportunity as anti-Dalit and instigating Dalits against the Aam Aadmi Party.

The Punjab unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party has tweeted accusing the Aam Aadmi Party of insulting Babasaheb Ambedkar. “Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar Ji. Bhagwant Mann took off his garlands and put these to the statue of Baba Saheb.  Hindustan will not tolerate the insult of Baba Saheb.”

According to media reports, on January 24, Bhagwant Mann took off the garlands worn around his neck during the election campaign in Nakodar and put it around the neck of the statue of Baba Sahib BR Ambedkar. The said lapse of Mann is being publicized as the dishonour of Baba Sahib. There is a wave of anger among some people that by putting his worn garlands around the neck of Baba Sahib, Mann has hurt their honour and sentiments.

But, Bhagwant Mann says, “We will not let the politics of hatred succeed to divide Punjabis, we will not let the brotherhood break.”

Bhagwant Mann asserted on 26 January, “Today on the occasion of Republic Day, we remember Baba Sahib Ambedkar Ji and promise that we will work hard to fulfil Baba Sahib Ji’s dream of social-economic equality.”

Indicating that the Aam Adami Party is very respectful to Baba Sahib Ambedkar, Delhi  Government has also decided that in every office of the Kejriwal government there will now be pictures of Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh and Baba Sahib Ambedkar. No CM or politician’s photo will be put.

However, at the present juncture, it is not so easy to conclude that who will be able to connect the Dalit voters in the midst of allegations and counter-allegations, but it seems that this time the path to power will go through the streets of Dalit enclaves.


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