Explained: Why Cong appointed first Dalit Sikh CM just months before Punjab elections?
Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni are appointed as deputy CMs of the state representing both Jatt Sikh and Hindu communities.Author : Shagun
In a historic political development, Congress leader Charanjit Singh Channi became the first Dalit Sikh Chief Minister of Punjab after Capt Amarinder Singh resigned from the post on
September 18. Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni are appointed as deputy CMs of the state representing both Jatt Sikh and Hindu communities.
The major change in guard came just months before the 2022 Punjab Assembly elections. Now, this move of Congress is deemed as an ‘election stunt’ to grab the Dalit votes in the state.
Earlier in July, the BJP had promised to make a Dalit chief minister in the 2022 elections. However, Congress took over and appointed a Dalit CM before the election could take place, trying to “kill two birds with one stone” since Channi is both a Dalit as well as a Sikh.
Who are Dalit Sikhs?
Sikhs have a caste system that is remarkably similar to Hinduism's, while most scholars agree that the demarcations between the hierarchies in Sikhism are not as clear, and caste difference has evolved from purity and pollution grounds to "material and political" reasons throughout time.
However, the religious experts claim that Sikhism sees everyone equally and Sikh Gurus never segregated their community into castes.
In the 20th century, Dalits in Punjab started adopting Sikhism as they wanted to increase their status at the social level. But this could not happen due to the social divide.
For a long time, Dalits were barred from entering gurdwaras.
Dalit Sikhs are still being oppressed by the dominant community, the Jatt Sikhs.
Dalit issues in Punjab
Punjab is one of the states in the country with the highest proportion of Dalits. According to the 2011 census, the state's population is made up of 31.9 percent Scheduled Castes and 31.3 percent other backward classes (OBCs). Together, the two sections account for 63.2 percent of the entire population.
Even though there is no religious caste system, Jatts consider themselves Sikhs and do not place a high value on the lower castes on a social level.
In the villages, there has been an increase in conflict between the Jats and other ethnic groups. In the last three decades, there have been over a hundred incidents involving class conflicts among the various castes within the Sikh community.
Religious and Ramdasi communities have also constructed their own gurdwaras, citing discrimination in most of the major gurdwaras as a reason.
At the local level, political parties have taken advantage of this. There are numerous Dalit Deras in Punjab and Haryana that represent the interests of Dalit Sikhs.
With less than six months in state assembly polls, the Congress making a Dalit Sikh the chief minister of state is seen as a masterstroke. Party can profit in the Doab region from this.
Congress has also sought to grab the Hindu vote bank by appointing Soni as Deputy CM. This is significant since the Hindu vote generally supports the BJP. Meanwhile, Sukhjinder Randhawa has been appointed Deputy Chief Minister in order to appease the Jatt Sikh community.
However, the party’s election stunt has not gone well with a significant Dalit population which claims Congress is “trying to kill two birds with one stone since he is both a Dalit as well as a Sikh.”
“It's just a political stunt. Punjab will hold elections in four to five months, with a code of conduct enforced 40 days before the polls. So, what is the new face's potential? He'll merely say, 'I'm a new person, trying to figure things out,'" said Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union president Zora Singh Nasrali.