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Majha, Doaba, Malwa: The three regions of Punjab, their importance in state elections

Carved out by the rivers flowing through the state, Malwa, Majha and Doaba are not just geographically distinct but politically and culturally diverse as well.

Written by Manraj Grewal Sharma | Chandigarh |
Updated: January 19, 2022 2:16:15 pm
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal with AAP's chief ministerial candidate Bhagwant Singh Mann ahead of Punjab polls, in Mohali, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (PTI Photo)

It’s not enough to be a Punjabi in Punjab, you have to be either a “Malwai”, a “Majhail” or a “Doabia”, depending on the region of your origin. Carved out by the rivers flowing through the state, Malwa, Majha and Doaba are not just geographically distinct but politically and culturally diverse as well. Drive around the state, and you could go from being called “Bhaaji” (in Doaba) to “Bhau” or “Veere” (Majha) and “Bai-ji” (Malwa). All three have their own distinct Punjabi dialects.

MALWA: Biggest, gave AAP a foothold, epicentre of farm protests

With the Aam Aadmi Party declaring Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann as its chief minister face on Tuesday, Malwa, the biggest of the three regions, with 69 Assembly seats in 12 districts, has got another shot in the arm. Nestled between the Satluj and Ghaggar rivers, this belt has had a monopoly in state CMs for the last three decades. Current Congress CM Charanjit Singh Channi is from Malwa, as was his predecessor Amarinder Singh, and the Akali Dal’s Parkash Singh Badal before him. Three previous Congress CMs, Beant Singh, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Harcharan Brar, too were from this belt.

More recently, Malwa was the epicentre of the year-long farm agitation. The BKU (Ugrahan), the largest farm union of Punjab, draws its cadre from this region, and B S Rajewal, president of the newly-formed party by farm unions which protested in the agitation, Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, is also from this belt.

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In the 2017 polls too, this region was at the heart of the boiling issue at the time: the sacrilege incident at Bargari.

Malwa is marked by glaring inequality in landholdings, with big landlords owning hundreds of acres in the southern districts — they include the political dynasties of the Badals, Jakhars, and Brars (Harcharan and family) — while the rest make do with two-three acres. As compared to the other two regions, it has lower literacy and higher rate of suicides among small farmers and landless labourers, often Dalits, especially in the cotton-growing belt of Sangrur, Barnala, Bathinda, Faridkot and Mansa.

It’s this clash between the political elite of rich farmers and big businessmen from cities like Ludhiana, Bathinda and Patiala, and the politically excluded small farmers and labourers, that led to the surprise emergence of AAP here in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when it won four seats. In 2017, the party got 18 of its 20 seats from this region.

Malwa also has a history of supporting Independents, electing nine in 1997 while almost wiping out the Congress. Though Communist parties may not have been successful at the hustings, the Left ideology colours many a union here.

MAJHA: Panthic belt favouring Akalis, hotbed of drugs trafficking

Majha with its 25 seats is called the panthic belt, with its profusion of historic gurdwaras, including the Golden Temple and the Kartarpur corridor that leads to a revered shrine across the border in Pakistan. The Hindus here are concentrated in Amritsar and Pathankot.

The region has traditionally been partial to the Shiromani Akali Dal. However, in 2017, anger over sacrilege incidents had led to only two Akali leaders getting elected from here, one of them the controversial Bikram Majithia. AAP is yet to open its account here.

Majha prides itself on its warriors such as Baba Deep Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh empire, and the famous general Hari Singh Nalwa, who tamed the Afghan tribals. Even today, people of the region are partial to firearms.

With the Ravi river flowing to its the west, Beas in the east and Satluj in the south, Majha means ‘in the middle’, and it used to be the centre of undivided Punjab before Partition. Its geography makes its four districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran and Pathankot vulnerable to trafficking of both drugs and arms from across the border, which made it the hotbed of militancy during the 1980s.

DOABA: Prosperous region earlier behind Cong; home to deras

Lying between the Satluj and Beas, Doaba (meaning between two rivers), with its 23 Assembly seats, is a buffer between Malwa and Majha. Home to Bhagat Singh, who was born in Khatkar Kalan village near Nawanshahr, and the Ghadri babas — a group of expats who founded the Ghadar Party in the US in 1913 to overthrow the British — Doaba is the most prosperous region of Punjab due to its fertile land and NRI remittances. Once notorious for ‘kabootars’ (illegal immigration), the region continues to see a flight of youngsters for higher studies.

Dominated by Hindus and SCs, Doaba was a stronghold of the Congress till the 1990s, after which the Akali-BJP combine made steady gains here. The biggest dera of the Ravidassias is headquartered in Jalandhar district and so are many others in its districts of Hoshiarpur, Rupnagar, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala, with a large following among Dalits. Unlike the rest of Punjab, the SC population here is better educated, more prosperous, and socially integrated.

Regardless of the region or its biases, a look at the results of the past five elections shows that each one of them could go from warmly embracing a party to throwing it out in the very next polls. And this time, with five parties in the fray, it’s all up in the air.

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