Ahead of the 2022 assembly elections in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party has stitched an alliance for 117 seats.
While SAD is a party patronised by the rural land-owning community, primarily the Jat Sikhs, the BSP has its base among the dalits. However, the electorate in Punjab never favoured the BSP.
Dalits dominated the Doaba region, where Kanshi Ram was born on the banks of the Satluj river in Khawaspur village in Ropar district.
His family belonged to the families of Ramdasia Sikhs and were originally a part of the larger cluster of the Punjabi Chamars. It was only the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ramdas, who identified them as Sikhs and who they believe made them a part of the Sikh movement.
Dalit families in his village were not allowed to partake in langar with the rest of the Jat brethren, as a result of which, every second village was dotted with gurudwaras managed and owned by SC families, where they had greater say in managing their religious affairs.
Ramdasia were the only community attached with Sikhism that was later granted the status of scheduled caste (SC) in Punjab. Whether in Hinduism or Sikhism, Dalits never wielded power in proportion to their population in Punjab.
To mobilise Dalits, Kanshi Ram founded Bahujan Samaj Party in 1984.
In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, Akali Dal and BSP fought together, where SAD won eight seats and BSP managed to win three constituencies. Kanshi Ram emerged victorious from Hoshiarpur Lok Sabha seat, but the party’s share in state power remained negligible as most of the Dalit voters either aligned themselves with Congress or SAD.
Kanshiram’s BSP had a fair share of vote percentage in Punjab, but they could not quite capitaliSe on the gains they secured in the 1990s.
The high point in BSP’s journey in Punjab was when it won 9 seats securing 16.32 per cent of votes in 1992.
In 1997, the BSP contested 67 seats but won only one seat with a poll percentage of 6.37 per cent.
In 2007, it drew a blank though it contested on 115 seats. The political fortune of BSP kept on dangling as it lacked seriousness in Punjab’s political affair. His nationwide fame came when he shifted his focus to Uttar Pradesh, where the political canvas was big and the party’s poll prospect was brighter.
The BSP came to power in Uttar Pradesh, but Kanshi Ram’s disillusionment grew louder. His connection with Punjab got weakened as Mayawati became the de-facto leader of the party.
To understand the role of BSP in Punjab better, it remained a fringe party, which was used by the SAD to cut into the Congress party’s Dalit vote bank. It happened many times that BSP contested assembly polls just to collect fund for the party and forgot Punjab after the polls.
So what’s the importance of BSP this time? After the BJP-SAD alliance broke off after the passage of the farm bill, the SAD needed a partner to compensate the vote share that BJP used to garner in the polls.
This time, the ground rules have changed, the BJP is on a weaker wicket, AAP is a fragmented house and Congress is faced with internecine squabbling over the past few weeks.
The farm movement in Punjab is mostly led by the land-owning community, while landless Dalits are out of the movement.
According to the agriculture census of 2015-16 area of Dalit, farm-holding is just 3.59 per cent while the national average is 8.6 per cent of the total area. While Punjab is the only state where 5.8 per cent of the farmers owned 10 hectares of land against the national average of 0.57 per cent.
Captain Amarinder Singh has many rebels in the Congress party, in this case, Sukhbir Singh Badal-led Akali Dal may fancy its chances of coming to power if Dalits ally with the SAD.
Historically, Dalits have not voted unitedly in Punjab but this time BSP is going to contest as a partner. Whether coming together of Dalit and high caste Jat will convert into a winning combination, it could be a difficult guess but the equation looks promising.
If Congress and other parties see them as an easy pushover, they will be in for a serious problem.