Punjab Assembly Elections 2022: 'Dalit winds' blowing across Punjab

All mainstream parties have been focusing on Dalit voters. Dalits, about 32% of total population of Punjab, are at centre stage during this election

Representative Photo
Representative Photo

Bipin Bhardwaj

All mainstream political parties have been focusing on Dalit voters in Punjab. The Dalits that are about 32 per cent of the total population of the state are at the centre stage of Punjab politics during this assembly election. The polling in Punjab will be held on February 20 for 117 constituencies

The BJP set the ball rolling in April 2021 by announcing that the party will have a Dalit CM if the party comes in power Punjab. Following the BJP, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) also promised to have a Dalit face as a Deputy Chief Minister.

Taking a lead, the Congress picked a Dalit face, Charanjit Singh Channi, as their chief ministerial candidate after showing doors to Capt. Amarinder Singh.

This was for the first time in the history of Punjab politics when the Congress appointed a Dalit Chief Minister in a Jat-Sikh dominated state.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) already had a Dalit leader Harpal Singh Cheema, as leader of opposition.

Barring Gyani Zail Singh (a Ramgarhia Sikh), Punjab has had 15 Jat-Sikh Chief Ministers after 1966.

Dalit population (32 per cent) which is the highest for any Indian state, is a main vote bank for the political parties and could not be ignored. Though this vote bank is scattered among Congress, SAD, BJP, BSP and AAP, yet all mainstream parties are seeking their support by alluring people of this community with their different poll promises.

Political analysts are of the view that previous records show that the Dalit voters never favoured any particular party in Punjab. So far, the SAD has succeeded in getting favour of Dalit voters in six assembly elections while Congress in five. The BSP had registered its presence in the state during Kanshi Ram’s time, but the party had to shift its base to Uttar Pradesh after tasting failure in Punjab.

The state has almost 40 per cent Hindu population and that too is not a consolidated category of voters. The Hindu population lives mostly in urban and semi-urban areas. The BJP failed to penetrate in rural Punjab which is considered as a stronghold of Akali Dal.

Records of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment show that Punjab has 39 sub-castes among Dalits. Five sub-castes contribute to more than 80 per cent of the Dalit population.

As per the 2018 report of the ministry, the Dalits are scattered across Punjab with their 37 per cent population in Doaba belt, 31 per cent in Malwa Belt and 29 per cent in Majha belt.

In 2022 state assembly elections, Punjab has 34 seats reserved, out of the total 117 assembly seats. All the political parties are trying to woo the voters especially the Dalits to win the 2022 Punjab Assembly elections.

In 2017, Congress managed to register its win (21), the highest number of reserved seats, followed by AAP (9), SAD (3) and BJP (1). The SAD had won 21 reserved seats while Congress and BJP won 10 and 3 respectively, in 2012.

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