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AAP’s promise about deputy CM intrigues Dalit voters in Nabha

Gurdev Singh Mann, son of a tyre repairer, acted in two Punjabi films and made a name for himself as a singer in the early 2000s.

Written by Sweta Dutta | Nabha/payal |
Updated: February 1, 2017 12:54:05 pm
punjab assembly elections, punjab elections, punjab dalit deputy cm, aap dalit deputy cm, bhagwant mann, punjab news, india news, latest news, indian express A crowd of some 150 in Dulandi village, part of Nabha constituency in Punjab’s Malwa region, huddle around a small podium as AAP candidate Gurdev Singh Mann.

A crowd of some 150 in Dulandi village, part of Nabha constituency in Punjab’s Malwa region, huddle around a small podium as AAP candidate Gurdev Singh Mann, a Dalit, renders a live performance of the party’s racy poll tune “Jhadu wala button daba diyo Punjabiyon… Badalan nu sabak sikha diyo… (Press the button for the broom. Teach the Badals a lesson)”. The crowd breaks into laughter as Mann tells them, “We will put the Badals in Nabha jail and will have tickets to see them for Rs 50, Rs 100…”

Mann, son of a tyre repairer, acted in two Punjabi films and made a name for himself as a singer in the early 2000s. He moved to Canada for four years to work as a radio presenter for a largely Punjabi audience but left the job to work full-time with the AAP last year. He is one of the prominent Dalit faces of a party that has promised to appoint a Dalit as deputy chief minister if voted to power.

In a state with a 32 per cent Dalit population — the highest concentration in the country — and 34 reserved seats out of 117, many in the community allege they are yet to get due political representation. By promising that plum post, AAP has left all these 34 candidates and lakhs of Dalit voters hopeful. At every public meeting of these 34 candidates, the hope is invariably doled out: “If voted to power your MLA could become the first Dalit deputy CM of Punjab.”

In the audience, this stirs hope and ambition that someone from the community might actually replace Sukhbir Singh Badal.

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punjab assembly elections, punjab elections, punjab dalit deputy cm, aap dalit deputy cm, bhagwant mann, punjab news, india news, latest news, indian express A crowd of some 150 in Dulandi village, part of Nabha constituency in Punjab’s Malwa region, huddle around a small podium as AAP candidate Gurdev Singh Mann.

“It does not matter what our problems are,” says Sukhdev Singh, 75, of Kajjal Majra in Bassi Pathana. “Parts of the village are inundated in sewage. There are swampy stretches on the way to the school and children slip. For years we have been approaching the sarpanch and MLA…Our pension, the local school, dispensary, all are in a mess. Our voice has always gone unheard. The backward will always remain backward. Maybe,” he hoped, “this new party will give us some representation. It is only for time to tell.”

When Gurpreet Singh Lapran tells his audience in Zirak village in Payal, another reserved seat in Malwa, that it is only Arvind Kejriwal who has “cared enough” to elevate a Dalit to the deputy CM’s post, the gathering applauds.

“So what if he is not a Sikh. Is Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi a Sikh? If we could give them a chance, why not Kejriwal?” says Lapran. “Has anyone else cared enough to give Dalits such an opportunity? Can you imagine a Dalit will be on the seat that has Sukhbir Singh Badal now?”

Senior party leaders have not yet name their top picks from among the Dalit candidates. Mann says, “People here say they want to see me as their deputy CM. The Delhi deputy CM, Manish Sisodia, will be campaigning for me as part of the roadshow.”

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