JALANDHAR: In a study of contrasts, BJP replaced its chief minister in Gujarat to give the post to a representative of the dominant agrarian community there, Patidars or Patels, to appease the community, but in Punjab, the party is adopting a reverse strategy vis-a-vis Jat Sikhs.
In Haryana, BJP successfully experimented with this reverse strategy so that politically dominant Jats, the main agrarian community in that state, were ignored.
In Punjab, the BJP never had its support base among Sikhs even as they voted for the party during its long alliance with SAD. The farm agitation has increased the gap between the two sides as most of the farmers in the state are Jat Sikhs.
In Gujarat, the Patidars are estimated to be around 13-14% of the total population and Jat Sikhs in Punjab are estimated to be around 25% even as BJP insists that their number is around 18%.
The BJP has inducted some Sikhs, including Jat Sikhs, in the party fold in Punjab and is also giving them important positions. It has appointed former All-India Sikh Students Federation convener Harinder Singh Kahlon as Punjab BJP’s spokesperson. Largely, the BJP is focused on making the electoral battle a competition between Jat Sikhs and others.
The pattern has emerged from the party’s decisions and organising secretary Dinesh Kumar had made the strategy very clear last year. TOI had reported his articulation on December 10 last year. “Haryana model can be replicated in Punjab too,” he had said as he revealed his party’s strategy for Punjab.
In Punjab, mainly the Jat Sikhs have been the politically dominant party till now and the remaining 82% of non-Jat Sikhs have not got a proper share in the power, Kumar had said.
“When it became Jat versus all others in Haryana, BJP formed its government. If this can happen in Haryana (where Jats have dominated politically and most of the CMs also belong to the community), Punjab is not different. Here too, 82% non-Jat Sikhs have never got the opportunity to have a proper share in power,” he had told TOI on December 9 last year.
“Till now, only Jat Sikhs have been ruling in the state as only they have been becoming chief ministers. They did not give a respectable share to others,” Kumar had said and added, “We have Jat Sikhs too and our approach is inclusive. We have Sikhs in the party.”
It is against this backdrop that the BJP is trying to win over Dalits in Punjab and even announced to make a Dalit chief minister in the state even as it has been unable to make strong inroads in the SC community in the last few years.
The Punjab Dalits are not a single entity and the two dominant castes among Dalits – Ravidassia/Adidharmis and Mazhabi Sikhs/Valmikis – have not been getting along politically.
These groups have been competing with others for political space. Because of this, it is not clear how much success BJP would get in winning over Dalits in Punjab.
Another crucial factor in Punjab is that the farmers have been getting support not only from the larger Sikh community but also from sections of Punjabi Hindus and Dalits who have also been playing an important role in deflating attempts of polarization so far.