The revamp of the Punjab Congress has left the Dalit-dominated Doaba disappointed. No Dalit leader from the region has found a place under the Scheduled Caste (SC) quota for the party’s campaign committee for the 2017 assembly polls as well as the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).
Doaba, which comprises the districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiapur, Kapurthala and Nawanshahr, has been a happy hunting ground for the Congress in terms of Dalit votes. The SC community accounts for more than 40% of the region’s population.
The only Doaba leader picked by the state Congress this time is a Jat Sikh, Sultanpur Lodhi MLA Navtej Cheema, who has been made the party’s chief whip.
The party’s decision to pick two Dalit leaders from Malwa -- Charanjit Singh Channi and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot -- as the CLP leader and vice-chairman of the campaign committee, respectively, has upset Dalit leaders of Doaba.
A former minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “We are shocked. It’s for the first time that the Congress has ignored Dalits. We were hoping that the party would consolidate its Dalit vote bank by picking leaders from the region.”
A senior party leader from Hoshiarpur said: “Of the six Akali MLAs who have won on reserved seats in the region, one is a cabinet minister and four are chief parliamentary secretaries. The BJP also tried to woo Dalits by elevating Hoshiarpur MP Vijay Sampla to the rank of Union minister. I fail to understand my party’s strategy.”
A senior Dalit leader and PPCC secretary, Dr Ram Lal Jassi, said, “In the present set-up, it will be tough for the Congress to hold on to its Dalit vote bank in Doaba. The region should have got due representation in the recast. But the party high command might compensate us in future.”
Doaba has traditionally been a Congress bastion, with the party making the most of the Dalit vote bank. Currently, the party’s prominent Dalit leaders from the region are Jalandhar MP Santokh Chaudhary, former MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee and former Union minister and ex-MP from Hoshiarpur Santosh Chaudhary. All three have been ignored in the party’s organisational revamp.