From being a revolution in the 1990s, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been reduced to a mere stepping stone towards the other mainstream parties for Dalit leaders in Punjab, the native state of its founder Kanshi Ram.
The trend has been clear for the past several elections, with almost every prominent leader who once fought on the BSP ticket, and got some votes, shifting to the Shiromani Akali Dal, the BJP or the Congress.
A case in point is the SAD’s candidate for Lok Sabha polls from Jalandhar (reserved) constituency, Pawan Kumar Tinu. Adampur MLA, and also a chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) in the SAD-BJP government, Tinu left the BSP for the SAD in 2005 after getting over 1.5 lakh votes in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls that he contested on the BSP ticket from the erstwhile Phillaur segment.
In Tinu’s rise from the post of village panchayat member from the BSP fold to becoming a prominent Akali leader, his grooming in the BSP has played a key role, say observers. While in the Mayawati-led BSP, he got the chance to make direct connect with the people by posing a stiff challenge against Congress nominee and Dalit leader Mohinder Singh Kaypee in the 1997 and 2002 assembly polls too.
Another Dalit leader of the BSP, Avinash Chander, gave a close fight to Congress’ prominent Dalit leaders, including Chaudhary Jagjit Singh in the Kartarpur assembly segment. He was then handpicked by SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal in 2007, and defeated Jagjit from Kartarpur. In 2012, Chander was fielded against another Dalit leader of the Congress, Chaudhary Santokh Singh, from Phillaur assembly segment, and he managed to win again by a wafer-thin margin. Chander is also a CPS now.
Yet another former BSP leader and now CPS, Des Raj Dhugga, is the SAD MLA form Sri Hargobindpur since 2007. He had switched loyalties from the BSP to the SAD after he got significant votes on a BSP ticket in the 1997 and 2002 assembly polls.
The Congress has got its share of BSP-wallahs, former MP Satnam Singh Kainth and Dr Ram Lal Jassi being prominent. Kainth, however, had lost to Tinu by a big margin in 2012. Dr Jassi, who unsuccessfully contested on a BSP ticket from Kartarpur in 1997, is now secretary of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC).
Others who shifted loyalties after first contesting from the BSP include Mangat Rai Bansal from Mansa (now in SAD) and Charanjit Singh Channi from Chamkaur Sahib (now in Congress).
Dr Sukhwinder Sukhi, who contested the LS poll from Hoshiapur in 2009 on a BSP ticket and attained over 1 lakh votes, joined the SAD in 2012 and is now the chairman of the Nawanshahr district planning board.
The latest are the Chauhan brothers from Rupnagar who joined the SAD in September last. Elder brother Kewal Krishan Chauhan had secured 1.18 lakh votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, whereas his brother Shiv Ram Chauhan had finished runner-up in the 2012 Vidhan Sabha elections.
Tinu, who was with the BSP for nearly two decades, tries to pinpoint the reason behind the trend, “The biggest shortcoming of the BSP remained that it failed miserably in deliver on promises made to the Dalits.
Why will junior leaders stay (in the party) when they see no scope in the state?”
But BSP’s Rajya Sabha MP and Punjab veteran, Avtar Singh Karimpuri, opines that “only opportunists have utilised the platform of the BSP”.
He adds, “The BSP is a mission, based on ideology. Its aim is social change, and every social change we have witnessed in history has needed time. If a few leave, it doesn’t make any difference.”