M A I N   N E W S

Punjab parties battle for Dalit votes via temple politics
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 19
A big political fight has begun between the ruling SAD-BJP and the Congress to corner the community-based vote banks, especially the largest Dalit chunk, in Punjab. It would appear that the function organized by the SAD at Amritsar yesterday to lay the foundation stone of Valmiki Temple was aimed exactly at that. Addharmis and Valmikis are two powerful sub-groups among Dalits.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has more such plans. A similar temple will be raised at Khuralgarh village in Hoshiarpur district to propagate the philosophy of Guru Ravidass. There is also a plan to build a monument in the memory of Bhai Jiwan Singh, also known as Bhai Jaita, at Anandpur Sahib.

Since Dalits are divided into many social groups, Badal's strategy is simple: Raise religious places and monuments so that the community has a sense of cultural fulfillment.

The Congress too has announced a big rally in Jalandhar, a region dominated by the Dalit community, .

Punjab has a high concentration (31 per cent) of Dalit population. There are districts such as Nawanshahr where Dalit population is 40 per cent. Jalandhar and Muktsar each account for 38 per cent. Faridkot has 36 per cent, Tarn Taran 32 per cent and Kapurthala has a 30 per cent share of Dalit population. As Rai Sikhs have also been included in the reserve category, Ferozepur with 42 per cent Dalit population tops the list of districts having a high percentage of such a population.

Of the 117 Assembly constituencies, there are 34 reserved constituencies and of 13 Lok Sabha seats, four are reserved. In the Assembly elections last year, the SAD-BJP coalition, the candidates of which were elected in 25 reserved constituencies, had done exceedingly well. Its "atta-dal" scheme proved a 'brahmastra' in the Assembly elections. Obviously, it was a big setback to the Congress, which has been banking on the support of the poor sections of the society. Interestingly, the Congress had done well in parliamentary elections in 2009: It won 3 out of four reserved Lok Sabha constituencies.

The Congress leadership is aware that without the Dalit support there is no way out. Whereas the Congress's think tank is focusing on the Dalits, the SAD leadership, after winning most of reserved seats in assembly elections, is working on consolidating its grip over the vote bank. 

The reason for it is the weakening of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the state. Over the years, particularly after Kashi Ram's death, the BSP has become a feeble political force in the state. There is a leadership vacuum in the party. Aware of such a vacuum in the BSP, parties such as SAD have gone all out to grab its support base.

"It is good that the Badal Government will construct Bhagwan Valmiki temple. But the Valmiki community needs much more. It needs real empowerment. A large section of the community works under inhuman conditions in municipal committees and corporations. No one is ready to address their concerns. Scholarships meant for their wards in schools and colleges have not been paid for long. Safai Karamcharis have been on strike against the move to set up solid waste management plants, which will through them out of jobs in municipal committees and corporations. But the SAD-BJP Government is silent on such matters", said Des Raj Kali, a Dalit writer and scholar.

Another scholar Sohan Lal says: "The construction of Valmiki temple will give a self-respect and self-confidence to the Valmiki community. Efforts should be made for the development of human resources of the community by making special arrangement for their education and economic empowerment."

The race begins

  • CM Badal promises Valmiki temples and other such monuments to mollify the community
  • Congress plans a huge rally in Jalandhar in December-end or Jan
  • Of 117 Assembly constituencies, there are 34 reserved seats and of 13 Lok Sabha seats, four are reserved
  • In Assembly polls last year, SAD-BJP candidates were elected in 25 reserved constituencies.





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |