Days after the Punjab Cabinet’s expansion, a revolt is brewing in the state unit of the ruling Congress, with Dalit MLAs of the party meeting to strategise “against the step-motherly treatment meted out to them”.
According to sources, about 10 SC/BC MLAs met at Punjab Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s house on Tuesday. They included Sangat Singh Gilzian, Davinder Singh Ghubaya, Joginder Bhoa, Dr Raj Kumar Verka, Lakhvir Singh Lakha, Ajaib Singh Bhatti and Gurpreet Singh GP.
The MLAs are said to be upset at the “poor representation” of both the castes in the cabinet. They claim while Jat Sikhs, which constitute at 25 per cent of the state’s population, have been given eight Cabinet berths, the SCs (at 32.5 per cent) have got only three and BCs (at 19 per cent) have got none.
A delegation of Dalit MLAs had also met AICC president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi last week. After the meeting at Channi’s residence on Tuesday, a leader told The Indian Express that ever since the government took over in Punjab, Dalits have been feeling ignored. “It all started from the appointment of law officers. Out of 125 nominated, only five are Dalits. Channi had taken up the matter in the Cabinet meeting soon after, but he was fobbed off,” said an MLA.
He said it did not stop there. In the state government’s debt waiver scheme, Rs 9,500 crore was set aside for farmers who are mostly Jat Sikhs while the government could not pay Rs 1,100 crore to farm labourers, who are mostly Dalits. “When a minister asked the government, they constituted a committee to look into it. Still, nothing has been done.”
Another MLA said that in the four municipal corporations that went to polls in the state, not a single Dalit was made the Mayor. “These issues have been annoying us. Just that these are now finding a vent after the SCs and BCs have been ignored in the Cabinet expansion also,” said an MLA. “With 21 SC and 10 BC MLAs, we are seeking at least one third of representation. But we have only three ministers in a Cabinet of 18. What a gross injustice.”
The issues were already raised with Rahul Gandhi last week. “At least 25 SC/BS MLAs are on one side. It will be a revolt difficult for the government to contain. In Shahkot segment, which is going to bypoll on May 28, 42 per cent population is Dalit. What if the Dalits got annoyed with the party?” asked a Dalit leader.