As the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Punjab unit chief appeals to the Dalit community to vote out the ruling SAD-BJP in Punjab at a rally in Sardulgarh on Thursday, the BSP leadership on the stage knew it would be a near-impossible task for the party on its own.
With less than 2% vote share in the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BSP finds the ruling SAD and BJP wooing Dalits that comprise over 33% population in the state, with even the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress playing the Dalit card as assembly election draws near.
As the SAD-BJP government rolls out the year-long programme to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar, the BSP has virtually no plans to mark the occasion. “They are doing this for the sake of Dalit vote bank that they won’t get this time,” Karimpuri said. “Ours is a consistent approach dedicated to Babasaheb Ambedkar ever since the party was born,” he said, dubbing the foundation stone of ‘Minar-e-Begampura’ as a multi-crore memorial dedicated to Guru Ravidass by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal earlier this month as a “political gimmick”.
Karimpuri also termed the Congress move of elevating Dalit MLA Charanjit Channi as leader of opposition in the Vidhan Sabha and the AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal thronging Dera Ballan of the Ravidass community and addressing a rally at Kanshi Ram’s village near Rupnagar last month as “vote bank politics”.
While the Congress elevated another Dalit face Shamsher Singh Dullo as the Rajya Sabha member, the BJP was not far behind when it appointed its Dalit MP Vijay Sampla as president of the state party unit.
For Karimpuri, these main political parties had “risen to the occasion after the BSP displayed a massive show of strength” at the rally of BSP supremo Mayawati at Nawanshahr in March.
A bitter past
“Let us forget the past,” Karimpuri said, when asked what made the BSP walk out of its alliance with the SAD that led to three of its senior leaders, including late Kanshi Ram, becoming MPs in the 1996 parliamentary elections.
The 1990s were the heyday for the BSP when its leader Satnam Singh Kainth even became leader of the opposition in the 1992-97 Vidhan Sabha. Kainth, who parted ways with the BSP to form the Bahujan Samaj Morcha in 1997, has been raising several questions for the BSP. “Why does the BSP play coalition politics in Uttar Pradesh and talks of contesting alone in Punjab?” Kainth wondered.
For Kainth, the BSP’s decline began soon after Kanshi Ram was bed-ridden following which Mayawati took reins of the party.
“He (Kanshi Ram) died in pain (in October 2006), and the present leadership buried the party’s ideals with him, making the party cadres weak in Punjab,” Kainth told HT.
He even accused Mayawati of turning a blind eye to the relevance of coalition politics in Punjab. “She must know the reason for the party to go it alone,” Kainth said.
Why no consolidation?
As both Karimpuri and Kainth acknowledged the Dalit vote bank not becoming consolidated in Punjab after the 1990s, eminent writer Des Raj Kali, the editor of Punjabi literary magazine ‘Lakeer’, said, “There was no visionary leader after Kanshi Ram, which is the main reason behind the BSP’s decline in Punjab.”
He said the deras like Dera Ballan and Dera Sacha Sauda have been directing the Dalit community to vote for different parties on different occasions. “Dera Ballan opting for the Congress in the past is an open secret,” Kali said.
He also blamed the Left parties for “exploiting the landless peasantry” in Punjab in the name of labourers’ movements but “without touching the crucial issue of caste repression”.