Even if some may question caste-based division and promotion of businesses and link Tuesday's announcement of incentives by the Prime Minister at Ludhiana to the forthcoming assembly polls, any help to Dalit entrepreneurs is welcome. A hub to facilitate technology knowhow, easy loans and increased government procurement from industrial units run by Dalits may give more Dalits the confidence to venture out in this risky, unfamiliar territory. Politically, the BJP needs to change its anti-Dalit perception created after the Hyderabad, Dadri, Una and Mewat incidents before it faces the electorate in Punjab and UP.
Punjab has a 31.94 per cent Dalit population, which was a reason enough for holding the PM function in the poll-bound state. The event offered Narendra Modi an opportunity to attempt a Dalit outreach. Good as he is at talking, Modi made an impact. “My Dalit brothers and sisters should not stand in queue to seek jobs, instead they should give jobs to others,” he said, adding that his "head hangs in shame" over atrocities on Dalits. The prime ministerial concern also put the spotlight on the grisly killings of Dalits in the recent past in Punjab by the liquor mafia whom the BJP-SAD government appears helpless to control, partly because some of its own are in the business. The brutality of the murders provoked statewide anger.
The Punjab Dalits are a divided lot. But given their numbers, no party can ignore them. The BJP has appointed a Dalit to head its state unit but factionalism limits his appeal. Soon after he took over in April, Sampla was not invited to a state-level party function on Ambedkar. The Congress Dalit leaders too bicker in public. AAP enjoys Dalit support in Delhi but in Punjab it is yet to be tested. The Akali Dal woos Dalits with freebies but, apart from unchecked crimes against Dalits, its neglect of rural schools and dispensaries has hit them hard. Dalits largely depend on government education and healthcare. Honouring a handful of Dalit businessmen or giving more to the creamy layer is not enough. It is those at the bottom who need hand-holding to climb out of poverty.
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