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AAP plays the Dalit card in Punjab, protests against atrocities in Gujarat, Haryana

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 23 July 2016, 18:44 IST

Playing it right?

  • After taking on various state specific issues in Punjab, AAP is now focusing on caste
  • The party is protesting against Dalits being attacked in Gujarat, Rohtak and Punjab

What are the other parties doing?

  • BJP is on the backfoot after the Dayashankar debacle and has not entirely recovered yet
  • BSP has decided to contest assembly polls in Punjab this year

More in the story

  • What are the things AAP is protesting about?
  • How has it worked out for the party so far?

In a deft move, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is trying to capture the Dalit sentiment in Punjab over the developments in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and also within the state.

With barely a few months left for the forthcoming assembly polls, the party is trying to further build the inroads that it has managed to make among the Dalits in the state over the last few months.

It is in continuation of this process that the AAP leaders held protests on Saturday against the BJP-led central government and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP led state government for their failure to tackle the atrocities being committed on Dalits.

The Convener of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes wing of AAP, Dev Mann, has come out saying that the incidents of attack on Dalits across the country show that the BJP is an anti-Dalit force and the government headed by it is not serious about providing security to the Dalits.

The protests

The protest in Punjab focused on the demand for seeking the resignation of Gujarat Chief Minister, Anandiben Patel, for failing to protect the interests of the Dalits in the state, particularly in the light of the recent thrashing of Dalit youths in Una town over the issue of skinning of a dead cow.

AAP is also playing up the issue of a Dalit girl being raped again by the same set of accused in Rohtak district of adjoining Haryana.

The party also demanded the resignation of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.

The party has also raised the demand for arrest of BJP leader in Uttar Pradesh, Dayashankar Singh, for his use of derogatory language against BSP supremo Mayawati.

And closer to home...

Rajeev Khanna/Catch News

Besides, APP has found a very potent issue back home in Punjab.

The party has been after senior Akali leader and Chief Parliamentary Secretary (CPS) Virsa Singh Valtoha for his reported remarks against Dalit icon Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar.

In a television debate a few days ago, Valtoha had reportedly held Ambedkar responsible for the present day casteism in India.

Ever since then, Valtoha has come under the scanner, particularly of the AAP leadership that has been demanding his immediate suspension.

AAP also demanded a registration of a criminal case against him besides an instant apology for undermining the father of the Constitution. The party has termed Valtoha's 'outburst' as highly condemnable and deplorable.

Mann said that Valtoha must know that Ambedkar's work for the upliftment of the Dalits was commendable and he was the person, who kept ample provisions in the Indian Constitution for the concerns and causes of Dalits.

Even the audience in the television debate where Valtoha had made the statement had been agitated by his remarks and the anchor had to halt the proceedings of the debate.

"We have got a good response in all the districts for these protests. The four issues raised by us are very important," Mann told Catch from a protest site in Patiala.

Reaching out to Gujarat and Haryana

Besides Punjab, where the AAP has turned into a formidable force threatening to walk away with electoral laurels, the party is also testing waters in Haryana and Gujarat, much to the discomfort of the BJP.

AAP's National Convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had visited the victims who were flogged at Mota Samadhiyala village near Una on Friday.

"Yes, we are doing politics but only to ensure justice for Dalits. The BJP is playing politics to oppress them," Kejriwal said during his visit.

He had spent about half an hour with 52-year-old Babu Sarvaiya who had sustained a skull injury in the thrashing meted out by the cow protection vigilantes.

Reports say that Kejriwal received a rousing reception in the village amidst a lot of slogans being chanted.

Over the last few days, the party has also started reaching out to the masses and is coming forward to express its opinion about various political developments in Haryana.

Punjab's strange case

Talking in terms of Dalit politics, Punjab happens to be a strange case where no political party has been able to establish supremacy among the Dalit voters despite the fact that more than 30% of the state's population comes from this community.

Neither have Dalits been able to become politically dominant in the state.

Academician Ronki Ram of Punjab University, who has been working on Dalit issues in Punjab, said that despite being 32% of Punjab's population, Dalits own less than 5% of the land in the state.

They are divided into 39 sub-castes across five religions.

Shifting allegiances

Traditionally Congress supporters, Dalits had moved closer to the Akalis over the last few years. This was evident from the Akalis winning the majority of the reserved seats in the state.

But this time around things have changed considerably.

While AAP has made considerable inroads into the community, the BSP too is trying to find its footing back in the region.

The BSP had won nine seats in 1992 assembly polls but ever since then its base in Punjab has eroded considerably. It failed to win even a single seat in the last three assembly polls.

But during her recent visit Mayawati tried to infuse life in the Punjab unit of the party and announced that the party would contest the state assembly polls alone.

Adding fuel to the fire

Meanwhile, AAP has been trying to consistently increase its influence over the Dalit electorate in the state.

Kejriwal visited the birthplace of BSP founder Kanshi Ram in Rupnagar district in March where he had raised the demand for a Bharat Ratna for the Dalit leader.

The AAP leaders, including Kejriwal, have persistently attacked ruling Akali-BJP combine for being anti-Dalit by raising the issue of Bhim Tank, the 27-year-old killed at a farmhouse of a liquor baron and SAD leader Shiv Lal Doda in Ramsara village of Abohar in December last year.

The youth's limbs had been chopped off, allegedly by 24 persons, the majority of whom were employees of Doda.

During one of his visits, Kejriwal had gone to the extent of offering a job to a Tank family member besides free treatment in Delhi to another youth, Gurjant Singh Janta, who had survived the assault.

Kejriwal has also been visiting the Deras frequented by Dalits in the state. In March, he had visited Dera Sacchkhand Ballan in the Doaba region, the Mecca of Ravidasia Dalits that constitute around 12% of the Dalit population in the state.

He had also visited Rahimpur Dera in Kapurthala district, a major shrine of the Valmikis.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

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First published: 23 July 2016, 18:44 IST