CHANDIGARH: Ahead of Punjab elections, caste politics has revived in the state, especially with Charanjit Singh Channi, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste, being elevated as chief minister replacing Amarinder Singh, a Jat Sikh.
All political parties in Punjab are focusing on Hindu, Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Classes vote bank in the upcoming state assembly elections. They are also wooing the majority of traditional Sikh votes.
Punjab has the highest share of SC in its population in the country at 32%. However, the politics of the state has always been dominated by the Jat Sikh community.
But with Channi being the first SC becoming the CM, the political scenario has changed in the state.
The Sikhs constitute 58% of the total population in the state while Hindus are 38%. The SCs, both Sikh and Hindu, are around 32% while Muslims are about 2% and Christians 1%.
The Congress got 43% SC Hindu votes in 2017 assembly polls and 37% in 2012 while it bagged 48% non-SC Hindu votes last time and 46% in the previous election.
As the figures show, a swing in non-SC Hindu votes could be the deciding factor in 2022 polls.
As far as SC Sikhs are concerned, Congress bagged 41% votes in 2017 and formed the government but failed to win in 2012 despite 51% of the community voting for the party. The SAD-BJP got around 34% SC Sikh votes in 2017 while AAP bagged 23%.
The Jat Sikhs had traditionally voted for the SAD-BJP alliance. As this alliance broke last year, political analysts say the community’s votes can be split between all parties. In 2017, 37% Jat Sikh votes went to SAD-BJP — down from 52% in 2012 — while the AAP bagged 30% vote share and the Congress 28%.
Political analyst Professor Kuldeep Singh told this newspaper: “In Punjab, caste politics is not as strong as in other states. But after Channi became the CM, it has been highlighted. The Jat Sikhs traditionally vote for the SAD. But this time, due to the sacrilege issue and farmer stir, the Akalis will get less votes from this community. The Hindu votes are likely to be divided between all parties.’’
Sources say the Congress is worried that if Amarinder floats his political party and has a seat-sharing agreement with BJP, then it will find it difficult to get Hindu and urban votes.
Amarinder is playing the nationalism card, supporting the BJP over the move to expand the BSF jurisdiction from 15km to 50km and raking up the old issue of Navjot Singh Sidhu hugging Pakistan army chief.