117 members for the Panjab Legislative Assembly will be elected in five days.
Like it or not, the stark reality is that caste and religion play a big role throughout India, including Panjab.
So, let’s understand the religion factor in Panjab: 58% Sikhs, 38.5% Hindus, 1.9% Muslims, 1.3% Christians, and 0.6% Others and non-religious. Essentially, 6 out of 10 voters are Sikhs.
Now, to the caste dynamics in Panjab: 32% Scheduled Castes, 22% Other Backward Castes, 21% Jatts (separated from Other Backward Castes to highlight their vote bank), 20% Upper Castes (Brahmins, Khatris, Banias, Tkahurs, and Rajputs), 4% Others (Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains). Effectively, 3 out of 4 voters are from so called “low-castes.” (I retained the labels as provided by government statistics though they are heinous in themselves).
To understand how people in Panjab will vote, it is important to comprehend caste-religion dynamics in terms of politics of identity. And that also explains, why every major party courts Dera votes.
Let’s now focus on three issues affecting all Panjabis (100% voters), and two affecting all Sikhs (60% voters).
Drugs: Confidentiality of data remains an issue; nonetheless, Panjab has about 3.3 times more drug users than the Indian national average, numbering about 836 per 100,000 people. This is beyond alarming. The rulings parties in the last two decades haven’t addressed this; rather, current ruling party’s leadership is known to be part of the drug trafficking problem.
Jobs: Technocrats in Panjab are facing a serious policy challenge. Currently 72% of unemployed can’t find jobs, although they are educated because the current ruling party’s mafia-cartel-nepotism modus operandi sycophancy surpassed previous records by other ruling party.
Farmers: Violence of green revolution is not debatable anymore. Current farm debt stands at Rs. 700 billion and farmers’ suicide are the second highest nationally in Panjab. Farm labors, crop purchase, and productivity remain consistently unaddressed in last three decades.
Guru Granth Sahib: Incidents of Guru Granth Sahib’s desecrations are reaching 100 in the last year and a half. Yet, the ruling party refuses to arrest and prosecute the violators. Passing emotional legislation was their sole public policy. Other parties have offered condolences, but that’s about it.
Akal Takht Sahib: Direct interference in internal Sikh matters remains a serious discontent among Panjabi Sikhs who constitute 80% of the world Sikh population. State and political parties continue to control Akal Takht Sahib, manipulate the Jathedars and their decision-making, and legislate changes in the definition of Sikh for SGPC and other Sikh bodies. No political party is offering anything in their manifestos on these grave matters. A simple commitment - to not interfere in internal global Sikhs affairs will be a good start.
The three major parties in the game are Shiromani Akal Dal (SAD), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and Indian National Congress (INC), though the total of fifteen political parties are fielding their candidates. Only 27 candidates are women. There are many firsts in these 2017 Panjab elections!
The Good: There are actual manifestos addressing some major concerns by the political parties, in case of AAP half a dozen and counting, labeled by parties themselves to be “legal documents” to “sacrosanct.” Media, once again, is having a field day with the Khalistan and the Sikh Diaspora; facts are clear that all parties raise funds in Diaspora Gurduaras and have played Khalistani politics for their gains without resolving myriad of issues ranging from river water disputes to extra-judicial killings.
The Bad: Horse-trading is at the peak; allegiance to party is fading faster than the color of turbans being appropriated, mis-appropriated, or re-appropriated. So, voting for either for a person or a party is beyond tricky. 1,941 candidates filed nominations to occupy 117 seats; cutting 1-4% votes will decide the winner and that has its selling price.
The Ugly: All political parties are geared up to not just defeat each other, but are collectively ganging up on AAP. Why? Because this is the only party to successfully break the low-high caste and rural/city divide during last Lok Sabha elections capturing the same number of Member of Parliaments as the ruling SAD.
How will the Sikh New Year commence in Panjab in March? Will the Vaisakhi Mela be same or voters going to separate the chaff from the wheat this time around?
The question is not whether a turban-wearer will be the next Chief Minister (CM), but will he be also the able CM? If AAP captures 59 votes, will its own acknowledged religio-secular culture install the statesman whose very name is constant reminder of 1984 Sikh genocide: Mr. Phoolka?
Guru Granth Sahib proclaims: “One who occupies the throne must be fit or qualified to be the head of the state” (takht raja so bahe jo takhte laik hoi). And that the leadership and the constituency are both “trash” if they aren’t connected with Ik Oankar – the One Creator pervading through creation. That wisdom must propel the Sikh vote!
Panjabis have had a rotten deal since 1947. Five Singh Parivars (Badal, Majithia, Kairon, Brar, and Patiala royals) with or without Sangh Parivar have been ruling Panjab. All aforesaid, plus anti-establishment Mann, are related to each other by birth or by marriage. Panjabis must rebel to end chieftain politics, recall Banda Singh Bahadur who appointed qualified leaders without caste or religion considerations. And that Khalsa Raj secured economic and political rights before declaring victory!
Panjabis globally await who will be the next ruling party or coalition. March 11 is in five weeks, five weeks of waiting for the Land of Five Rivers to flow and revive life!
In the next five years of reign, will it rain in Panj-ab?
O’ Divine! O’ Divine! Let it rain! (rabba! rabba! mih varsa!)
Harinder Singh is an educator, thinker and activist who tweets @1Force.