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An expert explains: Is the appointment of Channi, a Dalit, to the CM the masterstroke of Congress in the Punjab?


After Amarinder Singh stepped down as Chief Minister of the Punjab, Congress chose Charanjit Singh Channi over other leaders as the Chief Dalit Prime Minister of the Punjab. Channi was claimed to be the unanimous choice of the party, which may be true, but it cannot be denied that his selection as the Dalit Chief Prime Minister of the Punjab was made with the important vote of the Dalits in mind. in the state. According to the estimates of the 2011 census, the listed castes constitute 32% of the total population of Punjab; among them, a third are Dalit Sikhs.

Legislative elections in Punjab are scheduled for next year.

Dalit numbers

The importance of the Dalit vote can be assessed by the fact that there are 54 constituencies in the Assembly where Dalits constitute over 30% of the total voters. In 45 other Assembly constituencies. Dalits constitute between 20 and 30% of voters (Table 1).

In the contest which the state is expected to attend in Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) – Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance and the Aam Aadmi (AAP) party, one third of the votes – from any community – will play an important role in the victory or defeat of any political party.


Sanjay Kumar is a professor and co-director of Lokniti, a research program at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). Although his main area of ​​research is electoral politics, he has engaged in survey-based research on a very wide range of themes – Indian youth, the state of democracy in South Asia, the state Indian farmers, Delhi’s slums and election violence.

The large number of Dalits is the reason why in recent months all political parties have tried to mobilize them to their side. One way or another, each party had indicated that it would give a decent share of power to the Dalits if elected to power. While the AAP promised to appoint a Dalit as the Chief Deputy Minister if elected, the SAD formed an alliance with the PASB in an effort to woo the Dalits.

Amarinder Singh’s resignation gave Congress the opportunity to appoint a new chief minister, and the party overtook its rivals by appointing Channi as the Dalit chief minister of the Punjab. At the moment, it is difficult to say which party will be able to tip the Dalit vote in its favor, but many see it as a masterstroke from the Congress party.

(The voting shares in all tables are in%); Source: Punjab Assembly Election Studies 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017; CSDS data unit

Dalit vote in previous polls

The results of the latest elections suggest that no particular party has done significantly better in the SC-reserved constituencies than in the non-Dalit constituencies. In the 2017 parliamentary elections, Congress won 21 of the 34 SC-reserved constituencies, but its share of the vote in those constituencies was slightly lower than its average share of the vote. On the other hand, in 2012, although the vote share of Congress was equal in the reserved and non-reserved constituencies in the SC, it won fewer reserved seats – only 10 out of 34. Obviously, the party’s overall performance in the reserved and non-reserved constituencies do help us understand how the Dalits in Punjab voted in various elections (Tables 2 and 3).

But evidence from surveys conducted by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) indicates that even in the past, Congress has been successful in mobilizing both Hindu Dalit and Sikh Dalit votes. The results also indicate that the party must maintain its grip on the Dalits if it aims to win the legislative elections of 2022.

Evidence suggests that Congress was the popular choice among Sikh Dalits and Hindu Dalits, albeit in slightly different proportions (Table 4). After forming an alliance with the BSP, the SAD is eyeing the Dailt vote. But now, after appointing a Dalit Sikh as chief minister, Congress hopes to make a significant dent in SAD’s Dalit Sikh voice bank. It is important to note that it was only recently that Congress also appointed Sukhwinder Singh “Danny” Bandala, a Dalit leader, as one of its four active presidents in Punjab. Having a Dalit Sikh as chief minister and another Dalit leader in another important post is likely to have an impact on how Dalits vote in next year’s elections.


It is also important to note the evidence which suggests that among Hindu Dalits, Congress is more popular than SAD. The Hindu Dalits in the Punjab voted for Congress in greater numbers than they did for the Akalis in the last election. The entry of the AAP and the fact that the BJP is contesting itself can potentially have an impact on the Hindu vote bank of Congress, but having a Dalit chief minister could help the party mitigate that impact. and to keep intact its Hindu Dalit vote.

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