This is an excerpt from a report by News 18: Manjit Singh from Alladinpur village says, “We have always been given an impression that we are kingmakers when it comes to forming a government but then we have never had a chief minister from our community. The announcement (of Charanjit Singh Channi) may sound political but nonetheless good for optics to begin with.” However, the report by Swati Bhan says later: “Everybody is trying to woo us. Nobody knows who has the edge. With CM faces declared, political parties are hoping that it is an advantage, but only 10 March (counting day) will tell,” quipped sarpanch Kripal Singh of Khushnoor village near Jalandhar Cantt.
The region is dotted with several Deras associated with different Scheduled Castes. One of the major deras is Dera Sachkhand Ballan, a prominent spiritual hub of the Ravidassia community, which has seen a hectic political activity. Not just Channi but AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and Akali leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal have been the recent visitors.
The SAD has tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) hoping to sway the votes towards it. BSP head Mayawati will be addressing a rally in Nawanshahr with SAD leader Sukhbir Badal in tow.
India Today says: “Rahul Gandhi may have found a face in Channi who could help the Congress seek Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh. However, Channi and the Congress may find ‘civil non-cooperation’ from Sidhu, Kaur and Jakhar coming in the way of solving Rahul Gandhi’s Punjab problem.”
For one, Sunil Jakhar is now gone, “retired from active politics” in his words. “Jakhar was the one who drove Rahul Gandhi when he arrived in Punjab on Sunday to announce the CM face. Sidhu and Channi were also sitting in the car but apparently did not know who would be declared the winner in the televoting survey that Rahul Gandhi had reportedly ordered,” Prabhash K Dutta writes in the article.
Most important is the popular perception that Channi has long ceased to be a Sikh and converted to Christianity. Now, other than lower-caste Hindus, lower-caste Buddhists enjoy the status of Scheduled Castes, which are entitled to some positive discrimination by the state. Once converted to Islam or Christianity, an individual of his former religion’s Scheduled Caste does not retain the government tag. And if he is no longer from a Scheduled Caste, he cannot be referred to as a Dalit either. Now, the following is how the perception about Channi developed.
During a state-level Christian event last year, Punjab Chief Minister Channi had announced setting up a chair at the university level for the study of the Bible. But in November 2021, Charanjit Singh Channi had made a similar announcement about setting up a research centre on the holy texts Ramayana, Mahabharata and BhagavadGita too. Channi even promised that he would learn Sanskrit and will do a doctorate on the Mahabharata. Technically, Channi remains a Dalit belonging to the Ramdasia Sikh community. However, the whisper campaign against his religious and hence caste identity has stuck with a section of the Dalit electorate, which does not help the Congress cause.
Finally, whoever might be shedding copious tears for Dalits, none is promising measures to address their plight. As a result, Dalits are hardly going to vote as a bloc in favour of any party in this Punjab election.