At a time of Lok Sabha elections, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is vociferously promoting the “Ambedkarite culture” in Punjab’s Dalit belt, the Doaba region, which has four districts — Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala. The 128th birth anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar, which was on April 14, is being celebrated in villages with much zeal and fervour this time around by Dalits to “politically awaken” members of their community.
The Doaba region has a 37% Dalit population as per 2011 census, and the voters here are usually divided among mainly Congress and BSP, as well as other parties.
Over the past three days, BSP supporters have organised functions in several dozen villages to celebrate the birth anniversary of Ambedkar, while other week-long programmes are in the pipeline.
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Skits and missionary songs are being performed and sung during such programmes.
Alawalpur, Mand, Nangal Krar Khan, Bulandpur, Behran Srishtha, Bin pal Ke, Ram Nagar, Suchi Pind, Rampur, Vachint Nagar, Beas, Buta etc. are villages where the programme was organised over the past two days.
In most such programmes, BSP Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat candidate Balwinder Kumar has been the chief guest.
“I have attended over a dozen programmes about the Ambekarite culture in the past two days. There is a lot of enthusiasm among the Dalits now to know more about Dr Ambedkar, an icon for the community in particular and the nation in general,” said Kumar, adding that missionary singers were playing a great role in “changing the mindset” of people in villages where “the Ambedkarite culture will gradually awaken our community towards its political decisions”.
“When we talk about the life and philosophy of Baba Saheb, the role of Congress comes in…and then they (Dalits) realise how the Congress is using Dr Ambedkar just to get Dalit votes when in actuality, they were anti-Ambedkar,” said Khushi Ram, retd. IAS officer and BSP Lok Sabha candidate from Hoshiarpur Lok Sabha seat.
“Dalits of Doaba have asserted socially, religiously (by announcing separate Ravidassia religion in 2010) and culturally (with their Chamar population) in the past few years. But they are still far from political assertion despite an attractive vote bank,” said Balwinder Kumar, adding that if (Dalits) decide to go with one party, they can turn the tables for any political party in Punjab, which has a very high Dalit population.
“When Kanshi Ram, founder of the BSP, was active, the people of our community had decided to vote for BSP. But after him, the BSP too has done nothing for the people and its leaders in the state are indulging in wrong political practices,” said a senior BSP leader on condition of anonymity.
Other organisations like Ambedkar Sena Mool Niwasi, which has around 5,000 members across Punjab and Ambedkarite Buddhists (around 8,000 according to a 2011 census) have also been preaching the Ambedkar philosophy.
Since Mayawati became BSP chief, the party’s position in Punjab the state has slipped, with it registering a 1.4% vote share, the lowest ever till date, in the 2017 Assembly election.