In the run up to the elections for the 16th parliament (Lok Sabha), elections in Punjab for 13 seats were held on April, 30, 2014, of which 4 are reserved seats. It was a smooth affair in spite of the fact that political temperature registered in various constituencies was more than the climatic temperature by any measure. The big player’s viz. Congress, Akali Dal, BJP did not leave any stone unturned to convince the voters both by media onslaughts and also by flexing their muscles of money power and other influences at their command. Their counterpart BSP, as usual, raised some dust too. The new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) tried its best to register its presence, it seems, with success. The results, it appears, would be unpredictable as both the BSP and AAP would tend to play a spoiling role in the final count. I voted in Punjab for the first time. Let us wait for the verdict on May 16.
Punjab happens to be a state where the dalit population is estimated to be around 35%. In some of the constituencies, it is estimated that it reaches even 40%. The dalits of Punjab are economically better off than their brethren in other parts of the country. A good number of them are settled abroad in countries of Europe and America and also in the Arabian Gulf. The community is spiritually alive under the aegis of Ad-dharam, Sikhism, Kabirpanthis, Valmikis under the influence and association with one Dera or the other. In the thirties, Ad-dharam Mandal of Gadarite leader Babu Mangu Ram and his associates advocated separate identity for the dalits and supported Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Both Babu Manguram and Babasaheb though did not agree on many issues, played a big role in dalit awakening in Punjab. Dr. Ambedkar’s Scheduled Caste Federation and later Republican Party organized the dalits and brought them to the political reckoning in the state. Congress which remained the ruling party for many years after independence in 1947 under the leadership of dalit leaders like Prithvi Singh Azad, Master Gurbanta Singh and others stood against Dr. Ambedkar. Babu Manguram’s Ad-dharam Mandal became dormant and fizzled out in due course. The Republican Party under the leadership of Piara Ram Dhanowalia and others registered limited success and joined the first ever non-Congress government of Justice Gurnam Singh of Akali Dal in the mid 1960’s. The dalits gained further strength and prosperity. The Akali Dal and the BJP understood the importance of dalits who were hitherto the supporters of the Congress and the Republican Party. These parties started wooing the dalits. Piara Ram Dhanowalia and his associates joined the Congress. The Republican leaders like Lahori Ram Balley, though a competent leader, lost on the way in this transition. Congress, Akali Dal and BJP started embracing Dr. Ambedkar in line with the vote bank politics. Kanshi Ram emerged yet another leader of the dalits and came in the scene as BSP. He could register his presence not only in the Punjab Legislative Assembly but also in the Lok Sabha from Punjab. BSP came but it was yet to reach. Congress’s hold on dalits started diminishing. The new dalit leadership in the Congress under Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, Mohinder Singh Kaypee, Shamsher Singh Dullo and others failed to establish themselves as the community leaders. Akali Dal and BJP, in terms of real politico modus operandi, played their card cleverly. They could succeed in dividing dalit community among Ad-dharmis, Kabirpanthies, Valmikis, Ravidassias, Majhabis, etc. With the propped up leaders like Bhagat Chunni Lal (Kabirpanthi), Hans Raj Hans (Valmiki), Som Prakash (Ad-dharmi) the community further disintegrated. The BSP-trained cadres drifted and found space in Congress (Dr. Ram Lal Jassi, Satnam Kainth & others), in Akali Dal (Pawan Tinu, Avinash Chander & others) and also in BJP and enjoyed the spoils of power. BSP went the way Republican Party had gone and lost its eminance. The spiritual deras particularly the followers of Guru Ravidass got considerable following and influence among the dalit masses. They could not control and consolidate in the absence of enlightened and experienced advisers and aides. The mostly illiterate spiritual leadership of these deras did not find any need to invite and associate the experienced lot as advisers and managers. The actions of a prominent Dera in Jalandhar, in forming yet another sect/religion and the adoption of a new holy book, proved to be a futile exercise which resulted in social tension on one hand and divisive for the community on the other. The crux of the matter is that dalit community is totally divided. The so called economic well being and resultant awakening have tended to divide further rather than uniting. The political parties particularly the Akali Dal played a subtle role in dividing the dalits by supporting one Dera against the other. The vested social, spiritual and political interests wanted exactly this to happen. It suited them to keep dalits under their tutelage.
Punjab with the highest percentage of dalit population will always be ruled by the non dalits. It is a matter of fact in the given circumstances. If dalits wish to get their due space in social, economic and political landscape in Punjab, they need to stand up, consider and act in getting united as dalits irrespective of their religion, community identity, dera affiliation. The food for thought is that which political party has fielded any dalit candidate in the elections other than the reserved seats? None, not even BSP. Does it commensurate with their demographic strength? How do they expect to get their share (Bhagidari) in the establishment and governance? Let us think and get the answers.