Monday, January 16, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Dalit votes to decide ruling party of Punjab

Vikas Kahol Chandigarh, January 16, 2012 | UPDATED 12:35 IST
Dalit votes to decide ruling party of Punjab

The Dalits erupted in protest in Punjab in May 2009, after the murder
of Sant Ramanand in Vienna.

The top leadership of the three main political parties in Punjab - the
Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the People's Party of Punjab
(PPP) - comprises of Jat Sikhs. But their electoral fortunes in the
upcoming assembly polls are dependent on the engineering of the Dalit

Till a few years ago, both the Congress and the SAD had strong pockets
of influence among Dalit voters. However, the clear division of Dalits
over political lines would sharpen this time and the community would
play a vital role in shaping the contours of the legislative assembly
after the January 30 polls in the state.

Several political leaders conceded that as a sizeable section of
Dalits has started to assert its identity, a relatively new phenomenon
in Punjab, the community holds the key to the election results. For
the record, Punjab has the highest percentage of Dalit population in
the country.

"The political parties can't ignore Dalits who behave in a different
manner during polls in Punjab than in Uttar Pradesh," said Dr Pramod
Kumar - head, Institute of Development Communication (IDC) in
Chandigarh. Pramod said Dalits in Punjab are not a monolithic class.
Their vote share is divided between the Congress, SAD and BSP in the

"The division will sharpen this time," asserted Pramod, adding that
the community was looking for identity and recognition. "They are
looking for new identity at least in Doaba region," he said. The Jats
in Punjab comprise only 21 per cent population of the total 60 per
cent Sikhs, yet they have been ruling and dominating politics in
Punjab for decades.

Confirming his assertion, a claimed protagonist of the scheduled
castes, their rights and pride, Chamar Mahan Sabha stated that the
community would vote "cautiously". "We will go through the election
manifesto of all the political parties. We have also asked the
political parties to clarify their stand on our genuine demands," said
Paramjit Singh Kainth, president of the sabha. Chamar Mahan Sabha
started asserting identity in Doaba - the region with the state's
largest Dalit population.

Sources added that the politics of various 'deras' would also play a
major role in the elections. Sources in the Dera Sacha Sauda - whose
controversial chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is facing a CBI probe for
rape and murder - said they had been gauging the political situation
to come up with an appropriate mandate for voters under their group.

The violence in Punjab, following the murder of Sant Ramanand in
Austrian capital Vienna in May 2009, would also influence the voting
pattern of a community among the Dalits. Ramanand headed Dera Sach
Khand Ballan in Jalandhar district. The SAD-BJP government did not act
against the people involved in the violence to avert any confrontation
with them.

Traditionally, the Dalits in Malwa, comprising 69 seats, followed
their "feudal" lords and majority of them identified them with SAD.
The Dalits in Majha region, which has 25 assembly constituencies,
usually supported any one of the SAD or the Congress while the
community in Doaba was considered the Congress vote bank. But, the
situation changed during the last elections.

The SAD lost its bastion Malwa to Congress while it dented its vote
bank in Doaba region. "Dera Sacha Sauda had played a major role in the
role reversal," sources said. The Akalis have a substantial base in
the rural areas and have succeeded in winning over the Dalits,
particularly Mazhabis and Ravidasis through the Dera.

He pointed out that though Dalits form nearly 33 per cent of the rural
population in Punjab, only 2.3 per cent of them have land.

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