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Manifestos, religious yatras & big promises: AAP, Cong & Akalis race to woo Dalits in Punjab

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:37 IST

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.

Vote patterns...

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.

...and promises

"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.

AAP has promised that the land will be given to Dalit co-operative societies formed for this purpose and wherever people do not opt for a co-operative society, a five-member committee of Dalits in each village will approve the auction.

Government tube wells will be made available on village common land reserved for Dalits and there will be a provision in co-operative societies to provide free use of tractors and farm implements for cultivating these lands.

Empower and expand

AAP has promised to empower, strengthen and expand the Punjab Scheduled Caste Commission to ensure that grievances of Dalits are taken seriously and there is no discrimination of any kind against the community.

In addition to this, the party has promised a special cell to monitor proper implementation of the post-matric scholarship scheme, the implementation of which has been controversial in the state.

AAP leadership says that there will be a time-bound inquiry to identify those who have looted money meant for Dalits under the scheme and punish the guilty.

The most important aspect of the manifesto is AAP promising a dedicated Special Investigating Team (SIT) that will fix responsibility and recommend exemplary punishment for atrocities and false cases registered against Dalits over the last five years. It may be noted that atrocities and violence against Dalits has spiralled over months in the state.

The other promises include:

- Clearing a backlog of job vacancies for Dalits

- Collateral free loan of Rs 2 lakhs to start small businesses or village-based enterprises

- Making it mandatory for all educational institutions, NGOs and government, private offices to have a complaint office to deal with discrimination against Dalits

- Setting up special Dalit committees in every block to inform people about the benefits available to them

- For every crop failure, farm labourers shall be given a compensation of Rs 10,000 for every month of loss of work

- Job cards under MNREGA will be made on priority for Dalits

- AAP has also promised a separate commission for de-notified tribes in the state

Right time?

AAP's manifesto comes at a time when the Akalis are also going all out to woo the Dalit community. Having announced several sops in the recent past, the state government has declared a holiday on account of Valmiki idol installation at Bhagwan Valmiki Tirath Sthal in Amritsar on 1 December.

The government has also organised a 'Bhagwan Valmiki Ji Darshan Yatra' from 20 November onwards that is moving across the state . According to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal it is symbolic of of the age-old legacy of propagating love, universal brotherhood, harmony and compassion.

A six-feet gold-plated idol of Bhagwan Valmiki, weighing 800 kilograms, would be installed at Amritsar during a mega state-level function being organised by the government. It is this idol that is being taken to different places across the state in a religious procession.

According to Badal, this Rs 200 crore project would be instrumental in perpetuating the rich legacy of 'Bhagwan Valmiki' besides showcasing the teachings, life and philosophy of this great guru.

He said that the world-class design of this temple-cum-museum has been conceived and prepared by the architects of Guru Nanak Dev University while keeping in mind the religious sanctity of this historic place.

In the last few months, the Badal government has come up with two state-of-the-art memorials to woo the Dalits in the name of Valmiki at Amritsar and Guru Ravidass at Khuralgarh in Hoshiarpur.

On the bandwagon

The Congress too has been making promises to the Dalits to get them on their side. It has planned conventions for the Scheduled Castes in the state and would roll out the road-map for Dalit upliftment in its manifesto.

State Congress President Captain Amarinder Singh has been consistently attacking the Badal regime for the rising instances of Dalit atrocities.

Reacting to Kejriwal's promise to have a Dalit deputy chief minister, the Congress leaders have asked him to first name the chief ministerial candidate for his party. They have also asked how many deputy chief ministers does Kejriwal plan to announce before the elections as he has already announced some other names for the post.

Party leaders Rajinder Berry, Mohinder Singh Kaypee and Avtar Henry said the Dalit manifesto itself shows how intellectually bereft Kejriwal is, since a large number of the promises made were based on announcements already made by Amarinder.

"These gimmicks of yours are not going to help you," they said while referring to the Dalit deputy chief minister promise claiming that it is a ploy to win over the community before the Assembly elections.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 26 November 2016, 8:13 IST