Manifestos, religious yatras & big promises: AAP, Cong & Akalis race to woo Dalits in Punjab
In poll-bound Punjab, the political contenders are in a race to woo the Dalit population in the state. Though the exercise has been on for the last several months, it is reaching its zenith at this point of time when the polls are barely three months away.
Be it the Congress, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), promises galore are being made for the Dalits who constitute around 32% of the state's population.
But the irony is that the political parties have never been able to come together to grab political power and address the concerns of the community in the state where feudal mindset still continues to prevail to a very large extent.
There is another paradox visible in Punjab. While they have failed to acquire political power, the Dalits are economically better off here than they are in other states. This is mainly visible in the Majha area where a large section of the Dalit population have family members working abroad. However, Socially, they continue to bear the brunt of the caste divide.
Traditionally, the Dalits have voted for the Congress. But over the last few elections, the SAD won a good number of reserved seats.
Now, AAP seems to have made significant inroads into the community, much to the worry of the other two parties.
The BSP, of course, has always been at work in the community, particularly in the Majha region, but its fortunes have declined after a promising start in the 1992 Assembly polls by winning nine of the 117 assembly seats. Its vote share came down to a dismal 4.28% in the 2012 Assembly polls. The party failed to win a single seat in the last three Assembly polls.
Amidst this scenario, AAP's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal released the party's 19-point Dalit manifesto on Friday at Goraya in Jalandhar.
Kejriwal also announced that if voted to power, AAP would install a Dalit as deputy chief minister in the state.
"So far in Punjab, every political party has used Dalits as a mere vote banks and have always denied their dues in power. I hereby announce that AAP will give Dalits their dues and the first time in Punjab, a Dalit will be installed as deputy chief minister," he said while pointing out that in Delhi, out of the total 70 seats, 12 were reserved and all of these are represented by AAP candidates.
The AAP manifesto promises a low-cost housing scheme for Dalits to ensure that all members of the community have a pucca house. It also promises registration of all kutcha and pucca houses of Dalits to enable them to take loans and other benefits including compensation for damage due to natural calamities.
The party has also tried to address the issue of auction of village common land reserved for Dalits to influential persons of other castes by proxy. At present, a massive Dalit agitation is on in Sangrur where the community is fighting for its rights over the village common lands.