The Dalit vote bank in Punjab came into sharp focus on Tuesday as Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal sought to appropriate the legacy of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram with a visit to his birthplace in Rupnagar around noon.
In neighbouring SBS Nagar (Nawanshahr), speaking around two hours later at a rally held to mark Kanshi Ram’s birth anniversary, BSP supremo Mayawati appeared unfazed and declared that her party would have no alliance with any party for the assembly elections due early next year. Both leaders sought the Bharat Ratna for Kanshi Ram.
It also took personal turns as Kejriwal addressed his host, Kanshi Ram’s sister Swaran Kaur, as ‘bhua’ (father’s sister), while Mayawati underlined that he is an upper caste Bania “who has always worked against the Dalits”. She said the people “do not want to give further chance to the Congress, SAD and BJP”, adding that Punjab had always seen a chief minister belonging to the upper castes.
In his address at PirthipurBunga Sahib village in Rupnagar, Kejriwal said that “only the AAP can provide equal opportunity, rights and political share to the Dalits”. Later, Kejriwal also visited Dera Sachkhand Ballan, headquarters of the Ravidassia Dalit sect, near Jalandhar, and another Balmiki community dera nearby.
Mayawati said the AAP convener was repeatedly visiting Punjab to use the weaker sections to realise his political ambitions.
Dalits constitute 32% of Punjab’s population, proportion-wise the highest among all states.