Caste, clan, vendetta in play in Punjab

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Old 20-Mar-2009
Caste, clan, vendetta in play in Punjab


The Times Of India

Caste, clan, vendetta in play in Punjab
20 Mar 2009, 0415 hrs IST, Ramaninder K Bhatia, TNN

At 32%, Punjab probably has the largest concentration of Dalit votes in any state in the country, but the caste factor has, strangely, never played a prominent role in poll calculations here.

This is because, traditionally, Dalits in the land of Nanak have always aligned with one of the two major national parties — Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) — since the 60s.

All that may change this time. The twin forces of Mayawati and delimitation will bring Dalit politics — and vote bank — into the spotlight like never before. With four of the 13 seats getting reserved — three during the previous elections — BSP has decided to field candidates in all the constituencies. BSP, which had earlier won three Lok Sabha seats while in an alliance with SAD, is hoping for a windfall.

The delimitation exercise has upset many a plan, including those of SAD’s leading family, the Badals. Other leaders like deputy speaker of Lok Sabha, Charanjit Singh Atwal, and BJP MP Avinash Rai Khanna have also lost their traditional seats. The Badals were quick to identify a new bastion, Bathinda, and nurture it over the last one year. Atwal is working overtime in Fatehgarh Sahib.

Khanna, however, has been left high and dry. For SAD-BJP, there seems to be some frown forming on the anti-incumbency front. No wonder then that they are trying to woo voters desperately using the development plank. Sops like regularizing illegal colonies, relaxing anti-pollution norms for industrialists and doles for BPL families have been showered by the cash-strapped government. It remains to be seen how many will show their gratitude through votes.

As it is, the margin of victory for the ruling combine over Congress during the 2007 assembly polls was anything but impressive. Congress, on the other hand, is still battling infighting, especially between the camps of stalwarts Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, and will need a huge heave to come together as a compact unit. But it’s the negative sentiment against the Akali-BJP axis that Congress is counting on.

“Within two years of their misgovernance, people are already drawing comparisons between their rule and our times,” said Amarinder Singh, former CM and leader of the Congress campaign committee in Punjab.
“We would raise emotive issues like their handling of Sacha Sauda crisis, which tore apart the social fabric of the society; power shortage, along with zero support to the industry and farm sector. Then, there is the vendetta against Congress workers.”

But in all this, the battle of ballot is increasingly getting confined to two families — the Badals and the erstwhile Patiala royals. While the Badals would want to consolidate their position, Amarinder and his clan would like to avenge their assembly defeat. No wonder, a top cop said that the polls are likely to be violent this time, given the recent history of bloodshed between these two parties. Not surprisingly, eight out of 13 seats have been declared sensitive.




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