Other States

Swaran Kaur’s guests are a who’s who

The sleepy village of Bunga Sahib in Ropar district of Punjab is getting some VIP traffic lately, all of it leading to the Kanshi Ram Charitable Trust, headed by Swaran Kaur, sister of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Pradesh Congress Committee president Captain Amarinder Singh and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have been among the visitors. All in the quest for Ms. Kaur’s endorsement, with the larger aim of securing Dalit support in the most uncertain elections in the State so far.

The shift from a bipolar polity (the Akali Dal versus the Congress) to a multi-polar contest, with the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has focussed attention on the 32% Dalit vote. Parties have also been doing the rounds of various Deras with a large Dalit following.

What makes this a complicated exercise for the parties is the fractured nature of Dalits. “Dalits in Punjab are divided on religious lines more than caste lines. We have Valmikis, Ravi Dasiyas, Chamars, Mazhabis, Adi Dharmis. 60% are Sikhs, 40% are Hindus. Initially, Veerji [the elder brother] got a tremendous response. But these factors — besides the fact that Mayawati, hailing from Uttar Pradesh, didn’t want the party to grow here since her leadership could be challenged within the party — put paid to that,” Ms. Kaur said. “Arvind Kejriwal told me that he would appoint a Dalit Deputy Chief Minister, but what about his specific programme,” she asked. “The Congress, too, has asked for support. I’m inclined to wait till January 25 to speak. Whoever takes care of Veerji’s legacy, I will support them.”

She has also received invitations from the old associates of Kanshi Ram to visit Uttar Pradesh, especially Varanasi, Agra and Saharanpur. “I am keen to visit [the State] as I’m convinced that till Mayawati is there, the BSP will not grow beyond its present footprint,” she said.

Differing support

Traditionally, Dalit support has been even-handed in Punjab, with the Congress getting the backing in the prosperous Doaba region. Even the Shiromani Akali Dal, considered the panthic ‘Jat Sikh’ party, won a majority of the 25 seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes in 2012. “The uncertain religious allegiance of Dalits has made this possible as religious identity can override caste affiliation. Also, unlike the aspects of Manuwad and strict purity and pollution norms present in other States, religious reformation movements, such as the Arya Samaj, and the tenets of Sikhism have helped ease the impact of these issues,” said Pramod Kumar, director of the Chandigarh-based Institute of Communication and Development.

Kiranjit Singh Gehri, Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) candidate from Bhuchumandi (Bhatinda) and former president of the Dalit Sena, agrees with this view, but with a caveat. “There is more indirect discrimination against Dalits than direct discrimination in Punjab, but that doesn’t mean it does not exist,” he says. In 2006, he protested the separate serving of food to Dalits in a nearby Dera. “The irony is that it is the Dalits who elect our Jat chief ministers and Jat Dera chiefs. That has to change,” he said.

The AAP’s announcement on appointment of a Dalit Deputy Chief Minister, if the party is elected to power, is a major part of its campaign. “Sukhbir Badal holds the post in Punjab, and he is considered more powerful than the Chief Minister. To promise that position to a Dalit is a powerful message and it is finding resonance with the Dalits,” says Deepak Bajpai, one of the strategists of the party’s campaign. Whoever gets the lion’s share of this segment will win.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 8:30:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/Swaran-Kaur%E2%80%99s-guests-are-a-who%E2%80%99s-who/article17074939.ece

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