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Punjab’s new CM Channi: Case for SC empowerment?

Aditi Tandon

It’s a peculiar coincidence that Charanjit Singh Channi (58) was born in Ropar, additionally the birthplace of Kanshi Ram, broadly acknowledged as probably the most influential Scheduled Caste chief of India after Dr BR Ambedkar.

However not like Kanshi Ram, whose political grounding started in Pune the place he had gone to work after finishing his training in Punjab, Channi’s rise to the put up of Punjab Chief Minister — the primary from a Scheduled Caste — stems from his grassroots work within the state as municipal councillor, municipal council chairman, MLA and ultimately minister.

By advantage of his extended political acclimatisation and spectacular instructional attainment (he’s a legislation graduate, an MBA and is pursuing PhD from Panjab College, Chandigarh), Punjab’s first SC Chief Minister represents a new-age management with the potential to sign the pre-eminence of advantage in an period of caste politics.

However the query is, whether or not the Congress celebration’s “daring” transfer shall be seen solely from the prism of symbolism, or will it transcend to a nationwide discourse the place the journey of deprived SCs turns into as vital as their vacation spot.

Prof Surinder Jodhka, who heads the Centre for the Examine of Social Programs at Jawaharlal Nehru College, says symbols can’t be taken flippantly. “Political symbolism itself may be very important. The ideological facades that political events construct are vital. With the appointment of Channi as CM, SCs are feeling elated. This has added to their sense of self in a Jat Sikh-dominated land. The CM, a rooted politician, has an opportunity to supply a brand new imaginative and prescient to the SC center class,” says Jodhka, who follows the social lifetime of castes in modern India.

For the Congress, the appointment is a transparent gamble contemplating political phrases in Punjab have historically been dictated by Jat Sikhs, who comprise 21 per cent of the state’s inhabitants and management the agrarian financial system.

Rahul Gandhi’s resolution, which expectedly riled the BJP, Akali Dal-BSP and AAP, is rooted as a lot in Congress’ electoral calculations in Punjab (SCs have traditionally supported the celebration, however the vote share has been depleting) as by the previous celebration president’s acknowledged plan to nurture national-level SC management.

Channi’s appointment matches into the Congress’ ongoing emphasis on SC projection. Earlier this yr, the celebration named veteran SC chief Mallikarjun Kharge as Chief of Opposition within the Rajya Sabha even after he misplaced the Lok Sabha election. Kharge led the Congress within the 16th Lok Sabha earlier.

In 2019, when constituents of Maharashtra’s newly shaped Maha Vikas Aghadi determined to appoint two ministers every for the primary oath-taking, the Congress handpicked state chief Balasaheb Thorat and AICC’s SC division chief Nitin Raut. Politically, too, Rahul Gandhi and AICC common secretary Priyanka Vadra have actively related to SC points, agitating in opposition to sexual assaults on SCs in Hathras (UP) and Delhi Cantonment just lately, and earlier main the marketing campaign within the Rohith Vemula case.

The signalling is obvious as events nationally vie for the SC pie, with the BJP claiming to have the utmost SC Members of Parliament.

In Punjab, Jodhka says, the Congress gamble on Channi may go. Describing his elevation as an fascinating second in Punjab’s historical past, the knowledgeable notes that the bottom within the state is altering and time is ripe for experiments.

“Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu are like political entrepreneurs, not like political patriarchs Darbara Singh, Amarinder Singh and Parkash Singh Badal. The bottom in Punjab is altering. The precise knowledge of employment in agriculture exhibits the quantity employed in cultivation in Punjab is far lower than thought,” notes Jodhka, sharing statistics that the proportion of individuals registered as cultivators is sort of 50 per cent in rural Punjab and 25 per cent within the state as a complete — indications of a declining agrarian financial system, which has political implications for Jat Sikhs.

With democracy of a brand new type rising in Punjab and previous hegemonies fading, CM Channi can seize the second to fulfill the Congress’ aspirations of successful over SCs past Punjab, however the success of the gamble will reveal itself solely at a later time.

In the meantime, a cross-section of neighborhood members says the nomination of Channi as CM is celebratory sufficient because it provides to the neighborhood’s collective sense of pleasure.

Meena Kotwal, who based the online portal Mook Nayak this yr to trace rising atrocities on SCs, asks why Channi’s elevation shouldn’t be hailed as empowering in occasions of caste-based lynching with SCs as particular targets. “We must always really feel sorry it has taken so lengthy for Punjab, which has the very best proportion of SCs in its inhabitants throughout India, to have a CM from the neighborhood. The Congress has set an agenda. Why did the NDA not appoint SC Chief Ministers? They’re in energy in almost 17 states,” Kotwal asks, including that she needed to launch Mook Nayak to articulate SC voices as a result of her leaders didn’t care.

BSP chief Mayawati’s sagging political fortunes match into this debate, with consultants attributing her fall to flailing ideological commitments. A four-term Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister who inherited Kanshi Ram’s legacy is now hoping to ring a bell with Punjab’s SCs having allied with the Shiromani Akali Dal. The mix has promised an SC Deputy CM just like the AAP.

However political observers don’t see a lot hope for Mayawati.

Hemlata Mahishwar of the Akhil Bharatiya Dalit Lekhika Manch says Mayawati’s assist base hasn’t dwindled with out cause. “She hardly feedback on SC exploitation however makes it some extent to publicly woo Brahmins. Her intentions are uncertain. SC Members of Parliament don’t assist the reason for neighborhood empowerment as a result of they barely articulate the voice of their individuals. They in reality be part of the very voices that exploit them. These questions are crucial to the controversy on SC empowerment,” Mahishwar says.

Altering the narrative

At the moment Professor, Hindi Division, Jamia Millia Islamia, Mahishwar questions the celebratory temper over Channi’s appointment.

“Within the 75th yr of India’s Independence, we’re being instructed to have a good time a CM from the SC neighborhood. Does this not increase query marks on our evolution as a democracy? The query is whether or not Channi has any advantage apart from his caste to get the place he obtained. The actual fact that a lot consideration is being paid to SC symbolism means we have now saved the neighborhood disadvantaged for many years in order that we might play a sure form of politics. These taking credit score for projecting SCs should introspect the place we stand as a contemporary democracy,” the knowledgeable says, elevating moot factors about whether or not symbolism alone can yield desired social outcomes for marginalised sections regardless that it could ship short-term electoral dividends.

Historical past testifies that Ambedkar, India’s tallest SC ideologue and the nation’s first Legislation Minister, didn’t want symbols to affect society and steer reforms.

As Jodhka says in his paper, ‘Kanshi Ram and the Making of the Dalit Political Company’, “Ambedkar’s affect on modern Dalit lives in India goes far past the sphere of electoral mobilisations and continues to form and encourage all kinds of social, spiritual and political actions throughout the subcontinent. Given his pioneering struggles and academic achievements, he has additionally come to be very broadly recognised as an vital thinker of recent India, far past the Dalit universe, who offered a strong and important perspective on Indian society.”

In truth, greater than symbols, it was the Structure that gave the SCs a level-playing discipline to hunt dignity and substantive citizenship.

Researchers say India wants contemporary considering on empowerment if political illustration — as is being argued in Channi’s case — is certainly to function a software for social transformation.

Mahishwar explains, “If we proceed to view political appointments from the prism of symbolism, we are going to solely be aiding the historic perpetuation of caste politics. We should break away from parochial views and think about a pacesetter’s particular person capability to ship slightly than his caste alone. We should see how one SC chief regardless of beginning on an unequal footing in society leveraged constitutional ensures and overcame prejudices to grow to be CM. That narrative is the necessity of the hour.”

Mahishwar’s thought finds resonance amongst rising aspirational SC and OBC lessons. A cross-section of achievers from these communities didn’t want to dwell on caste. Sushil Kumar, the primary ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ contestant to win Rs5 crore in 2011, hails from Bihar and has lived the realities of caste, however desires to be recognized as an equal. He says the Congress’ symbolism in Punjab will certainly have a optimistic impression in occasions when the final notion is that the ruling BJP is preferential in direction of Savarnas, though discrimination within the supply of presidency schemes has diminished largely.

“Even so, the caste complicated is psychological. It will probably’t be defined, this sense of being unequal. So when a pacesetter from the neighborhood is projected, euphoria is pure as a result of the neighborhood’s sense of self-worth will get bolstered. How lengthy this lasts is anyone’s guess,” says Kumar, hoping the CM will ship.

The Congress for its half says Channi’s projection is a part of Rahul Gandhi’s mission to groom SC leaders below the plan that acknowledges “SC leaders equals SC voice”. Gandhi’s political technique is to achieve out to SCs past Punjab in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and elsewhere.

Consultants really feel the highway to SC empowerment will stay powerful regardless of momentary symbolism by events. Kanshi Ram’s slogan “Jiski jitni sankhya bhaari, uski utni hissedaari” was given within the 1980s, and but, the inequities are stark, change sluggish.


  • Out of the Congress’ 77 MLAs within the 2017 Meeting elections, the utmost, 23, had been SCs, who’ve 34 segments reserved within the 117-member Meeting.
  • As per the 2011 census, Punjab has 88.6 lakh SCs, which quantities to 31.9 per cent of its inhabitants. Of those, the very best proportion, 19.Four per cent, is of SC Sikhs (CM Channi is an SC Sikh), 12.Four per cent SC Hindus, 0.98 per cent SC Buddhists.
  • SC sub-castes in Punjab embody 26.33 per cent Mazhabis, 20.7 per cent Ravidasias and Ramdasias (CM Channi’s neighborhood), 10 per cent Advert-dharmis and eight.6 per cent are Valmikis.
  • Though the Congress has traditionally bagged a justifiable share of the SC Sikh vote in Punjab (33 per cent in 2002, 49 per cent in 2007, 51 per cent in 2012 and 41 per cent in 2017), it was alarmed by a 10 per cent drop between the earlier two elections although the celebration retained SC Hindu assist base, successful the corresponding elections with 47 per cent, 56 per cent, 37 per cent and 43 per cent of their votes.
  • Even nationally, the Congress and companions want to spice up SC vote share, which was roughly 26 per cent within the 2019 Common Election in opposition to the NDA’s 41 per cent.

Supply: Lokniti Survey, The Centre for Examine of Creating Societies

SC Chief Ministers

  • Damodaram Sanjivayya (1960–1962), AP | Cong
  • Bhola Paswan Shastri (March 22–June 29, 1968; June 22–July 4, 1969; June 2, 1971–January 9, 1972), Bihar | Cong
  • Ram Sundar Das (April 21, 1979–Feb 17, 1980), Bihar | JD(U)
  •  Jagannath Pahadia (1980–1981), Rajasthan | Cong
  • Mayawati (1995, 1997, 2002– 2003, 2007–2012), UP | BSP
  • Sushilkumar Shinde (2003– 2004), Maharashtra | Cong
  • Jitan Ram Manjhi (Could 20, 2014–Feb 20, 2015), Bihar | JD(U)
  • Charanjit Singh Channi (Sept 20, 2021- ), Punjab | Cong

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