Analysis | Playing the SC card is unlikely to be a game-changer for Congress
As the state’s SCs are not a homogeneous block, the party can only keep its traditional SC vote bank.
Ahead of the 2022 Assembly elections, the Congress Party attempted an election strike by selecting a Sikh Scheduled Castes (SC) Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, in Punjab, which has the highest percentage of SC population among states, almost 32%. However, the impact of this decision on the party’s electoral prospects is unlikely to change the game.
In Punjab, the SC community has traditionally been the vote bank for the Congress party, with the exception of Hindu voters and Sikh Jat (farmers). The SAD is a “panthic” party of Sikhs and also enjoys the support of Jat Sikh voters. In the 2017 parliamentary elections in the Doaba region, which is largely dominated by the SC, the Congress party won up to 15 out of 23 seats, testifying to Congress’ grip on the SC belt. So, gaining more support may not be an easy task, although the party will likely retain its vote bank after Mr. Channi’s rise.
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All the major political parties in Punjab tried to win the SC vote in the run-up to the Assembly elections. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has announced that he will appoint a Deputy Chief Minister of the SC, if elected to power. The leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) discussed the choice of an SC for the post of chief minister. But the ruling Congress has already taken the initiative to appoint a chief minister of the SC.
Mr. Channi, as the first SC to lead state government, has been socially welcomed and admired by the community, but the fact that it will politically benefit Congress with a huge tenure may be a far-fetched conclusion. because the Punjab SC, with strong divisions inside, are not a homogeneous group that votes in block for any political party.
The Punjab is also the birthplace of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founded by the late Kanshi Ram. The continuing decline of the BSP in Punjab supports the view that the Punjab SCs rarely vote en bloc. The BSP first used the SC as a political board in 1992, but since then the party’s fortunes in the state have declined. In 1992, he won over 16% of the vote, winning nine seats in the Punjab, but that figure fell to around 4% of the vote in 2012 Assembly polls. In 2017, his percentage of the vote reached a new low of 1.5%.
Moreover, the impression among the SCs that the appointment of Mr. Channi is only a tentative arrangement in the context of the remark by the party leader in the Punjab, Harish Rawat, that the Congress would challenge the elections of the Punjab assembly under the leadership of Navjot Singh Sidhu only added to the uncertainty. in the community. Although the All-Indian Congress Committee later announced that Mr. Channi and Mr. Sidhu would be the faces of the party in the state, Mr. Rawat’s remark is likely to be exploited by opponents in Congress during electoral prospecting.
There are 39 SCs in the state, which are divided into at least 64 ‘derasects, separated into different denominations and religions. Most deras are politically aligned, and being immensely influential among their supporters, they play an important role during elections in influencing votes.
“I don’t think Congress played the SC card on purpose. The movement, in fact, seems to have been born out of compulsion. First, Ambika Soni declined the offer of the post of chief minister, then the party was unable to reach consensus on Sunil Jakhar and Sukhjinder Randhawa. Channi’s name wasn’t even in controversy. His name was only discussed after the party exhausted its main options. Having said that, there is no doubt that the decision has been socially accepted in the enthusiastic community, but I have my reservations as to whether the SC votes will be fully transferred to Congress. Nonetheless, with this move, Congress will likely keep its existing voice bank intact, which might otherwise have been divided due to the anti-nomination factor facing the government. The decision will benefit the party, but it will not be something huge that alone will have an impact on the election results, ”said Des Raj Kali, a well-known Punjabi novelist and political analyst, whose work focuses on the Ghadar movement, SC issues, and Punjabi literature and culture.
“The impression that, if elected to power, Congress will have a Sikh Jat in the form of Navjot Singh Sidhu as the next Chief Minister, is already in the minds of the SC community. Channi’s selection just seems like a tentative arrangement, ”he said.