17 December , 2017 Sunday



As campaigning draws to a close in the countdown to the February 4 vote, anger runs deep in Doaba, the land between the Beas and the Satluj which, with the regions of Malwa and Majha, makes the state. And it is this feedback from the Dalit stronghold of Punjab that has the ruling SAD-BJP combine worried.

As elsewhere in the state, one of the talking points this election in Doaba has been the menace of drugs and the failure to stem the rot. Any talk of development is immediately overtaken by that of the illegal drug trade.

In Dhamian Kalan in the Sham Chaurasi constituency of Hoshiarpur district, Jasbir Singh speaks for many in the village: “If there has been any progress, it has only been for MLAs and ministers. In our village, only the drug trade has flourished, nothing else. One can buy nasha injections even from kirana shops. The drug peddlers know how and who to supply.”

In Chakowal Brahmana, Jeewan Chand echoes the sentiment. He says people do not need free sugar and ghee being promised by the SAD. “The drug supply will kill our children and the sugar and ghee will kill us. What does the government want?”

Khuradpur village is in Adampur constituency, another reserved seat. And people here are rooting for the AAP, the newcomer which has made the fight for Punjab a triangular contest. “We do not know the candidate. But our village is going to vote for the ‘jharoowali party’ this time,” said Jeet Ram who works as a farm hand in Khuradpur.

In Phagwara, Balwinder Singh complains about the law and order situation. “One can see drug flow freely in several areas of the city. We don’t need this. We have been with the BSP for long. But this time, we will vote for some other party.”

Across Doaba, there is a clamour for “badlav” (change). And this is not only troubling the SAD-BJP but also the Congress which has “committed votes” in these constituencies — up against inroads made by the AAP.

This region has 23 seats — Malwa accounts for 69 seats and Majha 25 in a House of 117 — and is home to 46 per cent of Punjab’s Dalit population. While eight are reserved constituencies, 20-30 per cent of the voters are Dalits in the remaining constituencies.

In the 2012 assembly elections, the SAD-BJP won seven of the eight reserved seats. Its score in Doaba was 17/23.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Chaudhary Santokh Singh of Congress took the Jalandhar parliamentary seat, defeating his SAD rival. But it was the AAP which came third, pushing the BSP to Number 4. The Hoshiarpur Lok Sabha reserved seat went to BJP state president Vijay Sampla who defeated his Congress rival. Again, AAP was Number 3 and the BSP fourth.

This election, every party has gone all out to woo Dalit votes. The AAP brought out a Dalit manifesto, promising a Dalit Deputy Chief Minister if the party is voted to power. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi promised to clear the backlog of 50,000 government jobs, mostly with Dalit youth. He also promised an Ambedkar university in Jalandhar. He and his party leaders visited Dera Sach Khand Ballan which has a large Ravidassia following in the Doaba.

AAP, BSP and Congress leaders have all demanded the Bharat Ratna for Kanshi Ram. The SAD-BJP government built the Ravidass Dham at Khural Garh, Ram Tirath in Amritsar for the Valmiki caste, besides promising houses and free education.

While Congress has its share of loyal supporters, the AAP appears to have attracted the young Dalit voters, especially in rural areas.

Chabbewal Congress candidate Raj Kumar says AAP has “nothing to give to the people of state as they do not understand Punjab or Punjabis”. The Captain, he says of Amarinder Singh, has “great vision” and “people trust him a lot”.

AAP’s Sham Chaurasi candidate Ravjot Singh says his is “a new party with new blood which wants to change all stereotypes” since “these old parties have no vision… people know the reality and will not be carried away by false promises”.

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