The Congress move to make Charanjit Singh Channi as Punjab’s first Dalit Chief Minister did not enthuse the Dalit unions which termed it an election stunt and said the party was trying to kill two birds with one stone since he is both a Dalit as well as a Sikh.
The state has a total of 31.9 per cent Scheduled Caste population as per the 2011 census while 31.3 per cent are other backward classes (OBCs). Both sections together form 63.2 per cent of the total population.
“It is merely an election stunt. Channi is a Dalit as well as a Sikh. Punjab will go to the polls in another four-five months and code of conduct will be imposed 40 days before the elections. So what can the new face do? He will just say I am a new person, trying to understand things,” said Zora Singh Nasrali, president of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union.
“Our seven mazdoor unions of Punjab have formed a common front as village and farm labourer associations’ Sanjha Morcha. Our proposed meeting is on September 23 in CM house with special secretary to CM and Lal Singh, Mandi Board chairman. So let’s see as who will entertain us now.
They may find an excuse to postpone this meeting too. All other protests going on in Punjab will also get stalled for the time being as the CM has changed,” Nasrali said.
Tarsem Singh Sewewala, general secretary of the same union, said, “Till the time policies are not changed, a Dalit CM or a Jat Sikh CM will not make any difference. Now we will ask the newly chosen CM to chair the September 23 meeting with our Sanjha Morcha. This will be a litmus test for him and will show how caring he is about Dalits.”
“However, already Punjab has 34 elected Dalit MLAs. What difference have they made to our condition? Making a Dalit CM is to target our vote bank. Every political party is targeting us, so is the Congress,” Sewewala said.
Bhagwant Samao, president of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, Punjab, said, “Shiromani Akali Dal did an alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party eyeing Dalit vote bank. They also announced that they will make a Dalit deputy CM while AAP too made a similar announcement. BJP, too, announced that they would make a Dalit CM. So, Congress has made a Dalit CM for few months to settle their internal feud. They are trying to give a message that while other parties have made announcements, they have already made a Dalit CM. It is Dalit votebank rajneeti. If Channi was so concerned, did he ever visit any of the dharnas where Dalits have been protesting? It hardly matters to us who the CM is.”
Gurmukh Singh, an active member of the Zamin Prapati Sangrash Committee, said, “In 2015, Channi had visited our village Ghrachon in Sangrur district where Dalits were protesting to get their share of panchayati land for farming on annual lease. He had assured us that he will get us land on an annual lease for Rs 5,000 per acre if Congress forms the government. But when Congress came to power, he never spoke on this issue. The reserve price for the annual lease of panchayati land for farming purpose starts at not less than Rs 20,000 per acre. At many places, it is more than Rs 30,000 per acre. Now we will be going to his Chamkaur Sahib residence to ask him what he can do now as the CM. The truth will come out soon.”
Representatives from Pendu Mazdoor Union, Punjab; Dehati Mazdoor Sabha and Krantikari Mazdoor Sabha too called Channi’s appointment a stunt ahead of 2022 polls.
Punjab has a total of 31.9 per cent SC population as per the 2011 census, out of which 60 per cent are the Ravidassia community. The Doaba districts of Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr have 32 per cent of the total population of Dalits, the highest in Punjab.
According to the social welfare department of Punjab, of the total SC population, 73.3 per cent live in rural areas while 26.67 per cent reside in urban areas. A total of 34 Assembly seats out of 117 are reserved for SCs. Around 15 lakh are farm labourers in Punjab and out of them the majority are of the SC community.
The Jat Sikh population is only 25 per cent.
Meanwhile, the reactions from the Doaba region, which has the highest Dalit population, welcomed Channi’s appointment but questioned if he will able to fulfil the promises made by the party.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) state president Jasvir Singh Garhi said, “I welcome this move but Congress must answer as to why it took 74 years to name a Dalit as the CM of a state where the population of Dalits is highest in the country”. He said the move “smells of opportunism”. Garhi said that Channi was Cabinet minister for the past four and half years and should tell what he has done for the Dalits in these years.
“Also an alleged case of harassment is pending against him with the Punjab State Women Commission since 2918,” said Garhi.
Jalandhar MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary and former state Youth Congress president Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary too welcomed the party decision.
Baljit Singh, a Dalit teacher from Jalandhar hoped that Channi “will take care of the interest of the poor and downtrodden Dalits”.
Comprising four districts — Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala — Doaba has 38 per cent Dalit voters. Of its 23 Vidan Sabha seats, eight are reserved. In the 2012 Assembly elections, the SAD-BJP won seven of the eight reserved seats with a total score of 17/23 in Doaba. The Congress had won 15 of 23 seats in 2017 polls and two more in by-elections later.
Doaba has two Lok Sabha seats, both reserved, with Congress and BJP representing one each