In a statement that shows the Congress party’s typical feudal and casteist mindset, party MP Ravneet Singh Bittu said “pious” seats like Anandpur Sahib and Chamkaur Sahib should not be given to the Bahujan Samaj Party for Punjab elections 2022.
This has led to massive protests against Bittu, especially in the Dalit dominated Doaba region and its centre, Jalandhar. At Buta Mandi in Jalandhar, BSP leaders burnt Bittu’s effigy and demanded his resignation. “How and why can’t a BSP leader contest from a pious seat? Does the MP still consider Dalits or BSP leaders non-pious? Or maybe he considers the rest of the state less pious,” a BSP worker said.
Later the Congress MP tried to come safe and said that his statement was misinterpreted. “I only meant to say that the Akali Dal had deserted Panthic seats. I never passed any comment against Dalits. BSP doesn’t imply Dalits as the party has workers from all castes. My political mentor Malkit Singh Dakha is a Dalit,” said Bittu.
However, obviously, no one is ready to buy that. The BSP leaders are demanding his unconditional apology and have filed an FIR against the Congress MP. BSP state chief Jasvir Singh Garhi said, “Bittu has shown that he has not imbibed the lessons taught by the 10th Sikh Guru at the time of formation of Khalsa in Anandpur Sahib. He preached equality. Despite having been elected from Anandpur Sahib earlier, Bittu has now shown that people had wrongly chosen him.”
Punjab’s politics is completely dominated by Jat Sikhs, who constitute 21 per cent of the state’s population. The Jat Sikhs, who predominantly vote for Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), enjoy a disproportionate share of political and economic power in the state. While the 33 per cent Dalit Sikhs have claim over just 3 per cent of the state’s total landholdings, the Jat Sikhs have claimed 80 per cent arable land with just 21 per cent of the population.
The Congress party often comes to power in the state with the support of Hindus and Dalits Sikhs, because both want to keep Akali Dal, supported by radical Sikhs, out of power. An often lesser talked facet of the Bhindranwale cult is the cruelties it carried out over Dalit Sikhs because they opposed their fundamentalist interpretation of the faith.
For the 2022 assembly election, SAD has allied with Bahujan Samaj Party in order to grab the votes of the Dalit community for the alliance and awarded 20 seats to it. Dalits are especially dominant in around 23 seats in the Doaba region. In the last few years, the presence of BSP has declined considerably in the state but even then, it gets a good number of votes.
During its peak in Punjab, the Mayawati led party used to get around double-digit votes. And one must not forget that the Bahujan movement started from Punjab, led by Kanshi Ram ( a Dalit Sikh from Punjab) – the predecessor and mentor of Mayawati.
The Congress leaders like Ravneet Singh Bittu are harming the prospects for their party by making such derogatory and stupid statements. Dalits are a major vote bank for the Congress party and if they shift to SAD-BSP (which as of now looks very unlikely), the defeat of Amarinder Singh is imminent. People like Bittu try to invoke the Jat supremacy in order to please their community, forgetting the fact that their party cannot come to power in the state without support from the Dalit community.