Thursday, January 26, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Can Mayawati win over Punjab’s dalit heartland?

Can Mayawati win over Punjab's dalit heartland?
TNN | Jan 26, 2012, 04.21AM IST

Mayawati failed in Punjab mainly because dalits here comprised
Ravidasis, Valmikis and Majhabi Sikhs who could not relate with
Mayawati's Jatav identity.
BALLAN (JALANDHAR): It's not easy to drive on NH-I these days between
Phagwara and Jalandhar with roads dug up for the ongoing three-laning
work. One has no option but to follow an auto-rickshaw that is wide
enough to block whatever road available, and fitted with a loudspeaker
blaring out a speech by BSP leader Mayawati interspersed with songs.

The traffic din can't drown out the name of Ravidasa which is
mentioned several times in one of the songs. This is Doaba, the dalit
heartland of Punjab, which India's most powerful dalit leader must win
over if she wants to have any real presence in Punjab. Will she
succeed this time?

The answer perhaps lies barely 20 km away on the road, leading up to
Pathankot from Jalandhar. Dera Sachkhand at Ballan village is the most
sacred place for the dalits, mainly Ravidasis, of the area. Its
growing clout can be gauged from the fact even Congress's Amarinder
Singh came for the `darshan' of chief guru Sant Niranjan Dass on
Tuesday. But while the sant blesses people, he refuses to talk

Dass, who escaped an assassination attempt in Vienna, instead allows
his manager Amrik Birdi to talk. "BSP candidates have sought our
support but the sant believes that only people who behave as
mahapurush should be voted for,'' says Birdi, adding that CM Parkash
Singh Badal too will be visiting the Dera which has played the lead
role in making the community assert its cultural and political

Another follower, who doesn't want to be identified, is more
forthright. "The dalit community in Punjab is not Jatav like Mayawati
and will not like to waste its vote on BSP; instead it will choose the
lesser evil between the Congress and Akalis,'' he says. He cites the
example of nearby Khanna seat, the valmikis have decided to vote for
Akalis. The Sehajdhari Sikh community, of which many are dalit, have
decided to back Congress. Like always, despite becoming politically
more assertive, the dalits seem to be choosing between these two main
parties only. What cannot also be ignored is that despite having a Jat
Sikh leadership, both Congress and SAD (Badal) have given enough
representation to dalits.

Maywati drew a blank in 2007 with the party getting about 4% of vote
share. The dalit czarina's best performance came in 1996 when she
entered into an alliance with the Akalis winning three out of four

"This was important because it proved that religio-cultural ethos
negate the existence of exclusive caste categories for electoral gains
in the state,'' says Pramod Kumar, the head of Institute for
Development and Communication.

Conventional wisdom has it that Mayawati failed mainly because Punjab
dalits mainly comprised Ravidasis, Valmikis and Majhabi Sikhs who
could not relate with Mayawati's Jatav identity. "Punjab has been more
liberal in terms of religious practices which has made it difficult
for Mayawati to create a vote-bank solely on her Manuwadi plank,''
adds Kumar.


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