Elections 2017: Punjab’s Disturbing Obsessions

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The elections for the legislative assembly of Punjab were held on February 4th, 2017. The election campaigns of the parties that were contesting the elections in Punjab have been the focus of much of the news for the past few months. The results were announced on March 11th, with Captain Amarinder Singh winning the polls with a tremendous margin. But even before the result was announced, one thing was almost certain, that the Chief Minister of the state would be a man and a Jatt.

The CM candidates of both the Akali Dal and the Congress were upper caste Jatt males who were related to each other, as reported by the BBC and the Times of India. This fact might seem insignificant in itself, but coupled with the fact that all the CM’s of the Punjab state since the bifurcation of its successor state in 1966, who have served their full terms, have been male and Jatt; with the exception of Giani Zail Singh (elected CM in 1972) who later went on to serve as the President of India and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal who served a brief stint of ten months as CM when her predecessor resigned in ’97, makes one wonder that perhaps Punjab is obsessed with male Jatt CMs.

Around 47% of Punjab’s population is female. And yet, only 7% of the candidates contesting the elections are women. Compare this with the number of candidates that have some kind of criminal cases against them (9%). Keep in mind that Punjab has second lowest sex ratio in India, at 895 females to 1000 males.

Punjab’s population is 30% dalit, which is the highest for any state in India. Despite this, Punjab has never had a dalit CM. The Aam Aadmi Party promised a dalit deputy-CM during its campaign, and while this might be celebrated as a progressive step, it strengthens the deliberation that the AAP isn’t interested in a dalit CM. This belief has been solidified by dalit leaders within the AAP as well.

The BSP, which is popularly seen as the flag bearer of dalit politics in UP, was actually formed by a Punjabi dalit leader, Kanshi Ram. While the BSP has remained insignificant in Punjab, it has been quite successful in UP. Mayawati became the first dalit CM of UP in 1995, and belongs to the BSP. Incidentally, she was also the first dalit female CM in India. In Kanshiram’s home state, however, the prospects of a dalit or a full-term serving female CM (let alone a female dalit CM) seem like a distant dream.

Why has Punjab never elected a dalit or a female CM? Despite the fact that the majority of Punjab follow the Sikh religion, whose core beliefs include gender equality and the rejection of the caste system.

Many believe that this is part of the reason. The Sikh faith has discouraged caste, as has the Arya Samaj which has had a profound effect in Punjab, hence caste politics haven’t developed in the state as much.

But the bigger reason is the disunity among Punjab’s dalits. Despite ridicule and violence, Punjab’s dalit haven’t united and politicized themselves. This, however, seems to be changing. The AAP released a manifesto that focused on many dalit issues and even vowed to post a dalit as the deputy-CM of Punjab if it comes to power.

About the Author:

Pankaj Khokhar (PGGC-11)

Pankaj Khokhar
(PGGC-11)

Aspiring Diplomat. Laughs too much. Artfully pretentious. Pretends to care sometimes. Trying to create his own little space in the world. Talks about self in the third person like everyone else.”

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