Tuesday, May 24, 2022
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Punjab Polls Elections Date Change Shows Importance Of Dalits In State's Politics

Generally, the SC votes are divided among various political parties because of different ideologies and affiliations, experts say as polling day changes in Punjab.

Punjab Polls Elections Date Change Shows Importance Of Dalits In State's Politics
Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi PTI

The ECI decision to defer the polling date in Punjab by six days to facilitate the celebration of Guru Ravidas Jayanti by his devotees on February 16 shows how crucial are Dalit votes for various political parties in the state.

Punjab was originally scheduled to go to polls on February 14, but the poll panel, on representation from various political parties, deferred the voting day to February 20 to ensure that Guru Ravidas’ devotees do not miss voting due to their largescale travel from Punjab to Varanasi and back to celebrate the seer's birth anniversary.

With Punjab’s scheduled caste population constituting 31.94 per cent of the state population, the highest among all states in the country, all the political parties are trying to woo them for the February 20 Punjab assembly polls.

As the Election Commission of India originally fixed the single-phase polling day in Punjab on February 14, two days ahead of the seer's birth anniversary, all the political parties were quick to point out to the poll panel that the Dalit voters, being in transit between Punjab and Varanasi, may miss voting.

Initially the BSP, then Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi followed by the BJP, Punjab Lok Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt) and the AAP had urged the ECI to defer the polling day beyond the seer’s birth anniversary on February 16.

The importance of Dalit votes could also be gauged from the fact the Congress party last year had appointed Charanjit Singh Channi as the state’s chief minister, the first person belonging to the SC community to hold this post.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, which broke its ties with the BJP over the farm laws in 2020, tied with the Bahujan Samaj Party last year for the state assembly polls.

The SAD-BSP alliance has also promised to the people of the state that if voted to power, it would make an SC MLA Punjab's deputy chief.

The Aam Aadmi Party too has promised free education to the children of the SC community, besides meeting the cost of their coaching fees for professional courses or competitive exams.

Punjab has a sizeable population of thee SC community in Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Nawanshahr districts in the state's Doaba region.

Out of the total 117 seats in Punjab, 34 assembly constituencies are reserved for scheduled castes.

Professor Ronki Ram of the Political Science Department at Panjab University said there are a total of 39 SC castes in Punjab.

Prominent among them are 'Chamar', 'Ad-dharmi', 'Balmiki', 'Mazhabi' and 'Rai Sikh' with these five SC sub-castes alone constituting around 80 per cent of the SC population in the state, he said.

'Ad-dharmi' and 'Chamar' are further divided into Ravidasias and Ramdasias, he further pointed out.
It is estimated that there are around 12 lakh Ravidasias who live in the Doaba region.

The Dera Sachkhand Ballan in Jalandhar is the largest dera of Ravidasias in the state. A large number of followers of Guru Ravidas goes to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh on his birth anniversary.

Generally, the SC votes are divided among various political parties because of different ideologies and affiliations, say experts, adding that every party tries to woo the SC community with their promises.

Panjab University’s Professor Ashutosh Kumar said, “Dalits here are divided along the caste lines, regional lines and religious lines.”

Congress candidate from Phagwara seat Balwinder Singh Dhaliwal said Charanjit Singh Channi’s appointment as the CM has made a huge difference for the SC community in particular and for the common man in general.

He claimed there is a definite tilt towards the Congress party because of the Channi factor.

Underlining the importance of the Dalit community in the coming elections, Shiromani Akali Dal leader and party vice president Jarnail Singh Wahid said the Scheduled Caste community has an influence on 64 assembly seats in the state.

He further said the workers of both the Akali Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party are working enthusiastically to ensure the victory of the SAD-BSP alliance in the next month's elections.

Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi had announceed last year to set up a Guru Ravidas chair over 101 acres of land to perpetuate the philosophy and teachings of the great saint.

He had also announced the state-of-the-art Dr. BR Ambedkar museum for perpetuating the glorious legacy of Baba Saheb.

Besides Channi, Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal among other leaders visited the Dera Sachkhand Ballan in Jalandhar.

SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal last year had promised to bring a world-class university in the Doaba region named after Dr. B R Ambedkar and also separate welfare departments for the SC and BC communities.

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