An Open Letter of an AAM AADMI – Dalit Vote Bank of Punjab
December 19, 2016
Dear Voters of Punjab,
In the run up to the forthcoming elections in Punjab scheduled for early next year, all political parties are busy in wooing the dalit vote bank with more than 32% vote share. Some constituencies inDoaba have a huge share of dalits ranging from 40% to 50%. Almost one third, 34 constituencies out of a total of 117, is reserved as SC constituencies. Obviously, dalits have the potential to make or mar any candidate, if they decide carefully. But, unfortunately, they don’t have the wherewithal to realize and avail of their latent power. As a result, dalits have remained on the margins of power structures in Punjab so far. The ruling parties, the Congress Party, the Akali Dal and the BJP did not care to give their share and always tended to satisfy them with a small share in the whole pie. There is no point in blaming the exploiters but dalit themselves. It is a proven fact that in politics, nobody gives anything to anybody. One has to claim and grab power in whatever way it is possible. Dalits could not do so in spite of their demographic position. After Acharya Prithvi Singh Azad and Master Gurbanta Singh in 1950-60s, no dalit leader could make honourable space in the power structures of Punjab. No party groomed any dalit to be a leader who could claim acceptability outside their limited areas of operation and constituency. After the fledgling Republican Party of Amedkarites in the 1970s, BSP under Babu Kanshi Ram showed some promise in the 1980s but soon fizzled away due to winds of divisive powers unleashed by the hitherto ruling classes on one hand and the short sighted approach and conduct of the BSP leaders on the other. Since then much water has flown in the proverbial five rivers but the fortune and fate of dalits remained almost static, limited to the constitutional arrangements of reservation only.
It is a matter of regret that in spite of the fact that Punjab has the biggest size of population of SCs as compared to the other states of India, SCs still don’t have much share, space and say in the corridors of power. Why it is so? It is the question which should engage dalit intelligentsia and the political leaders of all hues. Dalits are the spiritual followers of the great Guru, Guru Ravidass who said “प्राधीन्ता पाप है; जान लियो रे मीत, रविदास दास प्राधीन से कौन करे है प्रीत।“ Dalits are the followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Babu Kanshi Ram politically in the contemporary times. Both these dalit icons pleaded and demanded, for the socially and economically weaker sections of the society, a share in political and administrative power structures of the country. But dalits are still standing far away from these hollowed outfits as equal partners. The off the cuff answer to these important questions is that dalits are a divided lot in Punjab both religiously and politically. They are searching for their religious and communal identity as Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, Christians in a broader sense and as Ad-dharmis, Ravidasia Sikhs, Mazhabi Sikhs, Valmikis, and Kabirpanthis etc. in a somewhat confined sense resulting in further divide. After the relentless struggle of Dr. Ambedkar in the 1930s culminated in the shape of the Communal Award of the British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald and Poona Pact between Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar in 1932 and finally in the constitution of India with enabling provisions for empowerment of dalits including political reservation in the parliament, the state legislatures and other structures up to the grass roots i.e. panchayats. Dr. Ambedkar was defeated and cheated by the wily Hindu leaders headed by Mahatma Gandhi under the garb of nationalism and to save the life of the great Mahatma who undertook fast unto death against the Communal Award in 1932. Under the Poona Pact, dalits were made to lose Separate Electorate offered by the Communal Award by the British government and an alternate of political Reservation was given. Reservation has become a much maligned concept. Political reservation has not worked to the real advantage of the dalits. It has divided dalit community into various vested political agenda. It has created yes-men. Babu Kanshi Ram called them Chamchas (stooges) in his book on contemporary dalit politics “Chamcha Age”. The Congress party, the Akali Dal and also the BJP have taken advantage of the situation and have deliberately divided them under one pretext or the other. The religious or spiritual deras of dalits have succumbed to temptations of gunmen, beaconed cars, escort jeeps and other fringe benefits and knowingly or otherwise helped the political vested interests in further dividing the community. Dalits need to address the situation and find answers; if they want to have their due share in the polity and society otherwise their demographic advantage will continue to be negated by the vested interests.
It is felt, of late, the dalit intelligentsia and the educated youth have started realizing these ground realities. They are increasingly becoming aware and alive of their fate and have started asserting themselves. Obviously, it will affect the emerging political scenario. Political parties are also increasingly trying to grasp the situation to attract the dalit vote bank to their advantage.
The ruling alliance of Akali Dal and BJP are yet to come out with their election manifestos. But it is a common knowledge that these parties will try their best to woo dalits to garner their votes by hook or crook. The so called Blue Card holders are mostly dalits. The government is all set to throw away the freebies like Dal Atta schemes, free electricity, and free water, providing bicycles and cooking gas connections to the venerable sections of the society. They are not really interested in bettering the condition of dalits by empowering them by making good arrangements for their education, training and employment. The ongoing problem of post matric scholarships to dalit students cries for attention but nobody is serious. The question of surplus (nazul) land and share of dalits in its allotment is never addressed with sincerity. Both the Akalis and BJP are falling on each other to own Dr. Ambedkar to please dalit communities. Many proposals and programmes to recognize and honour the dalit icons have been undertaken with an eye on the elections and these will be forgotten, as usual, after the elections. The Khuralgarh project in Hoshiarpur to honour Guru Ravidass was inaugurated with great fanfare. But there is no time frame and no budget. It will remain on the drawing board for long. MoS Vijay Sampla of BJP announced a college to be opened at Bootan Mandi in Jalandhar to honour Dr. Ambedkar soon after he was appointed as the President of Punjab BJP. The land said to be earmarked for the project now has been auctioned to set up a vegetable market. These parties are simply befooling the gullible dalits. Punjab SC Commission, a statutory body, headed by a BJP nominee Rajesh Bagha, is toothless. Chairman Rajesh Bagha has alleged openly in the media that he and other commissioners are being treated shabbily by the government not only in the matter of payment of salaries and perks but also otherwise as compared to other such statutory authorities. The allegedly tainted SC Akali leaders namely Sarwan Singh Phillour and Avinash Chander have been denied tickets by the Akali Dal but the likes of Bikram Singh Majithia who is also involved in the same kind of allegations and investigations is calling the shots. This is the treatment SCs get at the hands of their political masters. Dalits need to see through the situation and assert themselves for their due space in the system.
The AAP has come out with a much flaunted Dalit Manifesto. I also contributed to the AAP’s Punjab Dialogue to consider some of the issues of interest and concern to dalits of Punjab. I am sorry to say that the said manifesto could not impress dalits. I wrote about this in detail in my blog and e-mailed to the AAP leadership. As I said earlier that dalit vote bank has the potential to do or undo. The Akali-BJP combine could come to power last time only because of the fact that they were able to wean away dalits from the Congress Party and win more seats in Doaba and elsewhere. I would notrefrain from stating the fact that AAP is yet to convince dalits of their sincerity and gain their acceptance. I don’t think that realization has dawned yet. Both the Congress Party and the Akali-BJP alliance seems to be much careful in selecting their candidates for reserved seats. They have given fair representation to dalit intelligentsia including highly placed senior bureaucrats and professionals. On the other side, AAP appears to be allergic to this category of aspirants of AAP tickets. AAP brags that they have given tickets to taxi drivers, sons of poor chowkidars etc. There could not be any animosity or opposition to such candidates as such but this bragging by the leadership smacks of sense of superiority and a sense of doing a favour to poor dalits. This patronage has not gone well with the dalit masses. AAP should rectify its dalit policy and agenda, the sooner the better. I am reminded of a couplet:
बड़ा शोर सुनते थे पहलू में दिल का ;
मगर जो चीरा तो इक क़तरा खून न निकला !
Though most dalits are economically poor, apart from their social backwardness, yet the Left parties could not make any inroads to their constituency. It is a subject of study. My personal feeling is that the communist leaders of yore in Punjab were all well to do Jatt Sikhs or elite Hindus. They could not embrace dalits in the caste ridden society.
The so called party of dalits, the BSP has done much harm to negate the demographic advantage of dalits in Punjab. They could not mobilize dalits as they did in UP. BSP, knowing or otherwise, tended to support the traditional parties by acting as dummies or spoilers. The dalit deras have played a negative role by dividing the community into divisive streams. Most of them don’t have any political Think Tanks who could advise them to handle the political situation and safe guard the political interests of their innocent and faithful followers. With this, one can safely say that dalits have harmed themselves in this tedious process. Unfortunately, no silver lining is in sight. I am certain that nobody would do anything. Dalits will have to do it themselves. Will we wait for another Ambedkar or Kanshi Ram to appear? I conclude with this question to be addressed by the dalit intelligentsia, spiritual leaders and the educated youth. Let me quote yet another couplet to say my mind:
जिस खेत से दहिनका को मयस्सर नहीं रोज़ी;
उस खेत के गोशे गंदम को जला डालो !
तू पहले बात फिर बात का अंदाज़ पैदा कर;
फिर तुझे दुनिया में कोई नज़र अंदाज़ कर नहीं सकता!