Chandigarh, April 8: Strategizing its USP for Punjab February 2017 Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party today opted for dalit leadership by replacing Kamal Sharma with Vijay Sampla as the state party chief. The Dalit and the youth vote banks are being perceived by all the political parties as the deciding factor. With its 32 per cent dalit population, the highest in any state in India, Punjab is witnessing new strong undercurrents in the political dynamics where the last non-Jat chief minister was Giani Zail Singh about half a century back.
BJP in the Punjab has never identified itself with the dalits and it is sections of the Hindu middle and lower middle class that comprise its main support base. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has mainly been confined to urban areas with the organisation trying to make inroads into villages during the last some years with little success.
The Congress brought in Charanjit Singh Channi, a dalit, as leader of its legislature wing as part of the rejig to replace Sunil Jakhar after Capt Amarinder Singh was handed over the command to lead the party in the high staked Assembly election. Till the recent upsurge in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party, Punjab was being seen as the state from where the Congress could be re-launched at the national level. Now the party has company in AAP that is eyeing Punjab polls as a big chance to score second big hit after Delhi and then fight for the national space. The BJP is partner of the Akali Dal and hence Prime Minister Narendra Modi has his own stakes. The BJP has to share anti-incumbency that can’t be entirely shifted towards the Akali Dal.
Sampla is considered to be a person with a clean image and a modest background. It is for the first time that he made it to the Lok Sabha to become a minister of state. He has been active in the state even after going to Delhi. He can be identified with clean politics that AAP is hammering, the issue on which the Congress too is on the defensive. However, the same can’t be said about majority of other BJP leaders in the state. Kamal Sharma was one BJP president who could never confront its alliance partner on any of the issues. The performance of the BJP ministers too has been questionable.
The BJP has tried to counter AAP at one level and project its pro-dalit image at the other by inducting Sampla. The Bahujan Samaj Party has never been strong in the home state of its founder Kanshi Ram and its role has mainly been that of a spoiler.
Going by the latest figures, Punjab has 1,99,49,125 registered voters about 50 per cent of whom are in the age group of 18 to 49 years. This despite the fact that the youth in the state is characterized by marked indifference to get registered as a voter. AAP is the new found love of majority of the youth in the state but even this party has failed to motivate this section to get enrolled as voter.
It may be recalled that it was Sukhbir Singh Badal who had initially mobilized this very section, especially in the rural areas. However, it is this section that is now disenchanted with the Akali Dal government and has jumped on the AAP bandwagon. AAP is being seen as the party of hope but it has to sustain this hype till election which is not an easy task keeping in view the unpredictability of state’s distinct political dynamics. As of today, people in the state seem to be determined in favour of change with tilt in favour of AAP.
It is the youth brigade that is now also being targeted by Capt Amarinder Singh who is also taking help of technology to reach out to the college and university students. He is one leader who has started interacting with them directly and faces all types of uncomfortable questions, including his own style of functioning.
Sukhbir and Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia are overseeing Akali Dal’s social media set up that is already in place. Both of them are strategists in their own ways.
It is the shift in in the political dynamics towards dalits and youth cutting across caste. Creed and religious lines that is significant this time. In 2012, dalits had overwhelmingly voted for Akali Dal and the party has succeeded in capturing 22 of the 34 reserved seats.