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Mainstream, VOL LX No 6, New Delhi, January 29, 2022

Dalits in the Coming Punjab Assembly Elections of 2022 | Jaspreet Kaur

Friday 28 January 2022


by Jaspreet Kaur

In Punjab Assembly elections, various parties have tried to give preference to the Dalit vote. First, the Akali Dal had announced the appointment of a Dalit face as Deputy Chief Minister. The main reason for this is that Dalit population in Punjab is around 33%. Putting aside the factor of considerable Dalit population, the riddle of appointing a Dalit Chief Minister cannot be resolved. Many other social and economic factors are also responsible for this. It is important to take a cursory look at their history.

In the early 20th century, the Ravidasi and Ad-Dharmi movement played an important role in Dalit empowerment. There are two main reasons that had played a significant role in mobilizing Dalit section into a single social identity First, the establishment of leather industry by the British government in the Doaba region of Punjab and secondly the considerable youth from the community joined British Army. Central to this movement is the Doaba region of present-day Punjab. With the economic development of the last 100 years, a large number of the Dalit community of Doaba has gone abroad. A large section is educated and serving at prestigious governmental positions and doing their own business. As a result, the Dalits of this region today are economically, socially and politically more advanced in Punjab than the rest of the people of Punjab. The Malwa region lags behind the region in terms of Dalit empowerment. In the early part of the 21st century, a section of the Dalit community in the Malwa region has been able to access education. Especially since 2008, post-matric scholarships have extended higher education to Dalit families. A significant number have been trained by higher education institutions. A portion of the trainees have been able to get government jobs. The feudal economic system of the village has lost its grip on this section. With this, most of the people are engaged in occupations outside the village. One of the major reasons for this is the mechanization of agriculture. Even with mechanization in agriculture, a part of the agricultural sector has become idle. As a result, the level of awareness among the people engaged in occupations outside the village has increased.

Apart from this MGNREGA, Shagun Scheme Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Niwas Yojana, Ration Distribution System etc. schemes have provided opportunities to this section to get out of the domination of the agricultural economy of the village economically. In the Malwa region, farm workers’ organizations are fighting for one-third of the Panchayat land, five marla plots, and implementation of other government schemes. Farm labour organizations in Sangrur, Mansa, Patiala and Bathinda districts have raised the level of consciousness in this section through their struggles. This group has been organized and resulted in a common front of seven trade unions that have come into being all over Punjab. The front has held several meetings with the Congress government. Large gatherings have put pressure on the government. All these factors of assertion and consciousness of the Dalit Population in the active politics compelled all major parties to think about their share in government and it is no longer possible to get their votes merely with dal flour schemes. Therefore, considering the urgency of the time, Punjab Congress has put the CM Dalit first. Through the Punjab model, Congress wants to consolidate Dalit votes from all over India in 2024. The Congress is trying to re-influence its traditional Dalit vote bank.

Throughout the history of electoral politics till now, Charanjeet Channi is the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab. This has had a profound impact on Congress and the rest of the Punjab parties. There are 34 reserved seats in Punjab. The appointment of Dalit CMs means giving political leadership to this large number. It has got a chance to organize itself as a pressure group in the Vidhan Sabha. There is a fear among the leaders within Congress over this. For instance, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sunil Jakhar have opposed Charanjit Singh Channi many a times. There is no shortage of Channi opponents within Congress. The advantage of Channi is that Channi’s opponents are not Navjot Sidhu’s supporters. Besides, the BJP, the Akali Dal, and the Captain faction are constantly targeting Channi instead of the Congress.

After becoming the Dalit CM for the first time in the history of Punjab, there is a wave of satisfaction among the middle class and educated section of the Dalit community. They take it from the point of view of Dalit empowerment. They take it as their representation in the most influential political position of Punjab and are confident that he will do better than others as his Chief Minister. The idiom of politics in Punjab has also changed since Channi became the Chief Minister. Channi has tried to establish himself as someone with the upbringing of a common man and claimed he used to fodder cutting, driving a rickshaw, fixing speakers, fixing electrical wires, drinking tea in a bowl, milking, etc as all lower-middle-class people have to do. This is the first time that the adjective Dalit is used so commonly in Punjab politics. This is an organic combination. This combination shakes the inner feelings of the Kirti Dalit community. Makes them realize their worth.

The Congress seems to be reaping the benefits of its initiative to form a Dalit CM. This has been confirmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He had announced before his rally in Punjab and accused the Congress of pursuing the politics of caste identity to get Dalit vote. That is a fact and the Congress seems to be succeeding.

This time the elections in Punjab are going to be very complicated. In which Congress, Akali-BSP alliance, Captain [Arminder Singh], BJP and United Akali Dal alliance and farmer’s Sanyukat Samaj Morcha (SSM) are in the fray. At present the benefit of making a Dalit Chief Minister by the Congress goes in favour of the Congress. This means that winning seats this time will not be by a big margin. Dissatisfied voters from Congress, Akali, BJP and AAP are in favour of Sanyukat Samaj Morcha. On the contrary, the contradiction between Dalits and the Jatt peasants was the disadvantage of the Congress. But it seems to be shifting in favor of the Congress as Channi becomes CM. Therefore, the formation of Dalit CM in Punjab will also play a role in mobilizing Dalit votes. With this trend, caste politics in Punjab is going to be more sharpened in the future.

(Author: Jaspreet Kaur, Ph.D Research Scholar from the Department of Political Science of Punjabi University Patiala. Associated with Peoples Pulse, Research Organisation on Electoral Politics. Peoplespulse.hyd[at]

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