At a small village near Jalandhar in Punjab’s Doaba region, which is separated from Malwa by river, an uncertain voter quips Charanjit Singh Channi as Congress’ Dalit chief ministerial face in Punjab is “good optics”. Manjit Singh from Alladinpur village says, “We have always been given an impression that we are kingmakers when it comes to forming a government but then we have never had a chief minister from our community. The announcement (of Channi) may sound political but nonetheless good for optics to begin with.”
A day after the Congress’s announcement, at the ground zero of Dalit politics, there is cautious optimism. The Doaba region comprises 23 Assembly seats and two Parliamentary constituencies, and the 38% Dalit vote could well play a decisive role in the Punjab electoral battle. Out of the total 31.95 lakh voters in Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur constituencies, 12.20 lakh are Dalits.
The Congress in 2017 had almost swept the assembly polls by bagging 15 of the 23 seats. But this time around, with anti-incumbency and a multi-corned electoral battle, the party is trying for not only a repeat but to better the previous performance. And with Channi winning the CM candidate race, defeating Navjot Singh Sidhu, a Jat Sikh, the Congress senses an advantage in the region. “We will work as a team and ensure maximum seats are won in the region,” says a confident minister and MLA, Pargat Singh.
Not just the Congress even the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) are trying to woo the Dalit votes. The SAD has tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) hoping to sway the votes towards it. BSP supremo Mayawati will be addressing a rally in Nawanshahr with SAD leader Sukhbir Badal in tow.
The region is dotted with several Deras associated with the Dalit community. One of the major Deras including Dera Sachkhand Ballan, a prominent spiritual hub of the Ravidassia community has seen a hectic political activity. Not just Channi but AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and Akali leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal have been the recent visitors.
“Everybody is trying to woo us. Nobody knows who has the edge. With CM faces declared, political parties are hoping that it is an advantage, but only March 10 (counting day) will tell,” quipped sarpanch Kripal Singh of Khushnoor village near Jalandhar Cantt.
With inputs from News18