The 'surprise' induction of local MP Santosh Chaudhary into the UPA cabinet as minister of state for health and family welfare is being seen as the Congress' attempt to woo back the Dalit community into its fold before the next general elections, besides showing Punjab as an important state in its political scheme of things.
The Congress, after losing badly in the Dalit-dominated segments across Doaba region in the last assembly elections, is seen struggling hard to win back its traditional vote bank.
Interestingly, Chaudhary failed to secure victory for her husband Ram Lubhaya from Sham Chaurasi reserved assembly segment falling in Hoshiarpur parliamentary constituency represented by her as he lost to Akali Dal's Mohinder Kaur Josh by 4,219 votes.
The Dalit votes had largely shifted to the BSP during the last elections, thus, "engineering" victory of the SAD-BJP candidates. The ruling combine had won 16 of the 23 seats while the Congress managed to win six.
Chaudhary, a three-time MP, earlier represented Phillaur (reserve) constituency twice, but managed to win from here in 2009 by defeating the BJP's Som Parkash by a margin of just 366 votes.
Her induction is also being termed as a setback to former Punjab Congress chief and Jalandhar MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee, who has been vying for a post in the union cabinet since the formation of UPA-II.
Kaypee, a renowned Dalit face, had a good image with the high command till his wife Suman Kaypee lost to the BJP's Bhagat Chunni Lal from Jalandhar (West) reserved segment. The defeat was significant as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had especially conducted a rally in the constituency, but even he failed to tilt scales in Kaypee's favour.
Doaba region, with over 40% Dalit population, comprises two reserved Lok Sabha seats - Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur. The party high command is giving special attention to the area as Rahul Gandhi also conducted an introspection session in Adampur in Jalandhar parliamentary constituency last year to assess the ground realities for the party's debacle in its stronghold. Rahul Gandhi had also elevated Banga Dalit MLA Tarlochan Soond as Punjab vice-president while entrusting him with the responsibility of the Doaba party affairs in-charge.
A section of political analysts is confused over the Congress move to induct her at this stage, saying she was among a list of non-performers prepared by a special team deputed by Rahul Gandhi. "There is a possibility of not repeating her from Hoshiarpur in the coming elections. She might have been given the cabinet berth to give due representation to women and Punjab," they said, adding that her "loyalty" to Congress president Sonia Gandhi had actually played the role in getting her the cabinet berth.