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Congress, Akalis eye Dalit vote

The Election Commission tableau for the Republic Day parade, during a press preview in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI

he Dalit community is expected to play a vital role in the Punjab Assembly elections, so the two main rival parties, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress are promising to shower them with sops.

While the leadership of both the Akali Dal and Congress has been drawn predominantly from the Jatt community, the Dalit vote has always been divided between the two, with the Congress believed to have a greater hold on them. It is this hold that the Akalis are aiming to break.

The Dalits have also voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Left in the past, but with the BSP failing to establish its base in the state and the Left parties losing their pockets of influence, the community's vote is up for grabs.

The SAD has been paying extra attention to the Dalit settlements in the villages, called Vehras. The SAD-BJP government has announced two schemes to woo Dalits — a cash gift of Rs 15,000 to poor girls getting married and the construction of toilets in poor households. In many villages of Lambi, the constituency from where Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is contesting, the newly constructed toilet doors with SAD's election campaign slogan, Raaj nahi Sewa (Service, not Rule) are a testimony to the importance being given to the Dalit votes. Maheshinder Singh Badal, the Chief Minister's cousin who is contesting on a Congress ticket against the CM had lodged a complaint before the elections were announced. According to Gurmeet Singh Khudiyan, a close confidant of the Congress candidate, this is evidently a last ditch effort by the Badals to woo the Dalits as they know they are on their way out.

Dr Santokh Singh, a well known political analyst says there has been a significant shift in the Punjab political scene with Amarinder Singh wooing away a significant section of the peasantry, the Jatt vote. The stranglehold of the Akali Dal on the Jatt Sikh voters was broken in the last Assembly elections with Amarinder Singh sweeping the Malwa region. The emergence of Manpreet Badal, who is also from the same region, has further divided the Jatt vote. According to Santokh Singh, the Akali game plan is to offset the loss of Jatt votes by wooing the Dalits. Whether they succeed in that or not would have a direct bearing on the complexion of the next Assembly.

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