It is time for politician journalists – Maharashtra News

The Indian Express | 14 hours ago | 31-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
Week 1 of Parliament: Opposition MPs from Trinamool Congress wear black masks around their mouths to signify how their voices are being muzzled in Parliament.Week 2 of Parliament: Opposition MPs from Congress, DMK, SP and others put up a giant banner on the facade of Parliament building, demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee. Some Opposition party MPs sign caps with the words “Arrest Adani” inscribed on them. These are then taken to the offices of the Finance Minister, Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation.Week 3 of Parliament: Opposition MPs from over a dozen parties wear all black to Parliament, as a sign of protest. Some wear black masks.Why, you might well ask, are Members of Parliament, not belonging to the ruling party, indulging in such tactics? Cynics could even call these acts, gimmicks. But before rushing to any conclusion, let us examine what exactly is happening (or more correctly, not happening) at the altar of democracy — Parliament.Pictures beamed from Sansad TV (the channel that telecasts proceedings of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) are being selectively edited online before telecast. Protests by Opposition MPs are rarely, if ever, shown. The edited video output ensures the focus is on the Speaker, Chairperson and the Treasury Benches. Visuals of Opposition MPs protesting from their seats or in the well of the House are censored. Sansad TV is not the only culprit. Media outlets too have their “own priorities”. Here is one example from last week. The Prime Minister delivering a speech while inaugurating a sewage treatment plan in Varanasi at around 2 pm on March 24, got wall-to-wall live coverage. At around the same time, news of Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as an MP broke. Opposition parties, like mine, did not wait for phone-ins from television channels. We were creating our own “Breaking News” by posting our reactions on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.Yes, there is no use being a cry baby. No use sitting around complaining about pro-establishment reportage. Political parties in the Opposition will have to overcome these challenges through innovative ways. I feel, besides professional journalists and citizen journalists, the time is now ripe for “politician journalists” who must set the narrative in a proactive manner by creating compelling communication (even if it means shooting on personal mobile phones) and then amplifying the same beyond the legacy media.The eight years I spent in my twenties in the creative department of that brilliant advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, come in handy today. Generating political content that cuts the clutter is a challenge. We are moving to an era where political parties fighting the good fight will not wait for a guest relation executive from Noida to call a spokesperson to appear on prime time television. Where choreographed conclaves and soporific summits will be called out as advertorials for the ruling party. Where those taking on the Union government will create more ingenious media spaces to directly engage with the citizen.Look at what has been happening in the ongoing Budget Session. A minacious precedent is being set. MPs from the Treasury Benches are shouting slogans. The Union Budget, totalling an amount of Rs 45 lakh crore, was passed in just nine minutes. The very next day, the Finance Bill 2023 was also passed without any discussion. Scrutiny of Bills by Parliamentary committees has come down from a healthy 60 per cent to a dismal 13 per cent. Out of every 10 Bills passed, as many as four are Ordinances. In contrast, this number was two Ordinances out of 10 bills, 20 years ago. Bills are also being passed in a hurry. In the 2022 budget session, Lok Sabha utilised only 62 per cent of the time allocated by the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) for discussion, and Rajya Sabha utilised just 48 per cent. The last eight consecutive sessions of Parliament have been adjourned sine die before the scheduled date of closure.These serious issues about Parliament are not getting many centimetres of coverage in newspapers and are most often ignored by news channels. I do believe it’s the MPs from the Opposition parties who are being compelled to play the role of content creator and amplifier aka “politician journalists”.Parliament must not be allowed to be turned into a deep, dark chamber.Scribes covering Parliament are slowly being made to play diminishing roles by a government that wants total control. Senior editors, who till not so long ago had access to Central Hall, are now not allowed into this sanctum sanctorum. No political party has conducted a formal press conference in Parliament House in at least a few years. Entry of journalists has also been restricted; lots are drawn and those whose names come up are given entry passes. In the last few weeks we have noticed groups of school children being taken around Parliament on conducted tours. Very good. If the Covid restrictions have been lifted, let us get back to pre-Covid rules when it comes to journalists.Last week, I attended the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in India, the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism awards. After the awards ceremony, I hung around for more than an hour casually interacting with many of the journalists who had been felicitated. They were young. They were fearless. They gave me hope.The writer is Member of Parliament and Leader, All India Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party (Rajya Sabha). Additional research by Pallavi Balakrishnan
During my recent visit to India, I wanted to get a feel for politics beyond the metropolis, particularly to find out what echo the banner headlines in the national media about democratic backsliding had in areas beyond the limelight. My destination was Odisha’s Kashipur village, where I had spent three months in 1977 to gauge the impact of the Emergency on the electorate. The village was familiar to me prior to the study. The landowning upper castes lived in the centre of the village and people lower in status lived farther away, in concentric circles around the centre over which presided a temple of Durga, the deity of the landowning Khandayats. The architecture of space matched the cartography of power. Caste, class and clout dovetailed quite neatly.The Emergency had upturned the apple cart. In Orissa (now Odisha), Chief Minister Nandini Satapathy, an ardent supporter of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had targeted the lower social order as her electoral base. The coalition of Panas — an elite caste among the former “untouchables” of the region — and Juangas, a tribal community that had got assimilated into the local caste system, used the Emergency to stand up to the dominant Khandayats (land-owning Kshatriyas). Moneylenders and landholders, the main support base of the Janata party, were the target of their wrath. The district-level Congress leadership — a conduit between the lower social order of Kashipur and the state Congress leaders — had instilled a sense of empowerment, and entitlement, linked to Indira Gandhi’s 20-point programme, resented by the upper castes. In the event, the constituency, of which Kashipur was a part, bucked the national trend by electing the Congress candidate, to the chagrin of the upper social order. The Emergency had come to Kashipur as the catalyst of change in the structure of dominance.Forty-five years on, the landscape of the village has changed radically. Already a large, multi-caste village back then, it has grown immensely in population. The most spectacular change is in the physical appearance of the village. The old concentric circles are gone. Instead, the village today resembles a drawing board where an indifferent Lego player has strewn bits and pieces of architectural types, where pucca buildings of all possible styles jostle for space. The money for this building boom has come from central schemes like the expansion of the national highway, the railway line and a huge canal that now cuts through the village. These have pumped cash into the hands of those who have lost land, many of whom happened to come from the lower social strata. Practically all houses are connected to electricity, piped water, cooking gas, and have toilets. A pucca road connects the Pana and Juanga neighbourhoods directly with the national highway.Underpinning this new pattern — chaotic at first sight — is a complex and semi-fluid structure of the co-existence of competing elites. Mobile phones, rituals and deities — Durga, Shiva, Jagannatha and Govinda, drawing devotees from different castes — are much more in evidence than before. The political clout that had emboldened the young hotheads among the Panas to challenge the dominant Khandayats in 1977 has now found an institutional shape in terms of the composition of the panchayat where the lower social classes dominate. However, the upper social strata has found a new avenue to exercise influence, in the shape of the “village committee”, which organises the village jatra, manages rituals and processions and holds loutish behaviour in check by imposing fines and social boycott. The overlap of membership between the two — the panchayat and the village committee — signifies the muted nature of social conflict. Instead of overt conflict, there seems to be a unity of purpose — to acquire electoral power and cash this in — through getting contracts in the myriad “developmental” activities in the village and its vicinity. Freewheeling transaction, cutting across castes and factions, seems to transcend the truculence I had noticed in 1977.There was little evidence of the political waves sweeping over Delhi, either in the local Odia papers or in the local political rhetoric. Presiding over all this, through an unbroken run of 23 years as chief minister, is Naveen Patnaik, leader of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), and son of the visionary Biju Patnaik, a former chief minister. To my question, “how come the BJD is so solidly placed in the village whereas all the cash and benefits flowing into the village are the doing of Prime Minister Modi,” the response I got from several respondents was revealing. “The Prime Minister does what he should, but we get rice at one rupee a kilo, thanks to Naveen Patnaik”. The sophisticated vote-splitting — Modi for Parliament and Patnaik for the assembly — and careful strategising that connects local power and the cornucopia of patronage showed me how the Kashipur that I knew in 1977 has caught up with the most sophisticated electorates of the world. “And how about the decline of Indian democracy?” The answers I got to this question were all a variation on the main argument of existential phenomenology: “Existence precedes essence.” (Sartre).The life-world of voters is the key to their electoral choice. Choice generates the cash, and not the other way around. Cash does not buy votes, but issues germane to the life-world of the voter do. The kaleidoscope of India’s electoral space results from localities and regions, following their own trajectories. These countervailing forces, activated in elections that are not synchronised, are the myriad little feet of India’s democratic centipede, which keeps moving, notwithstanding the disapproval of global ranking agencies and the metropolitan elite’s disdain of this “Indian way” of politics.True, meta-issues such as the Lohia-inspired anti-Congressism of the late 1960s, “garibi hatao” of Indira Gandhi, and the subsequent “Indira hatao, desh bachao” slogans can meld the local and regional trends into a national narrative. But this can work only when it effectively connects with the life-worlds of voters into a national leitmotif. That requires the agency of leaders with adroit organisational skills, who sense an opportunity and seize it. Up against the BJP with its second-level leaders at the peak of their careers, its legion of karyakartas at constituency levels working seamlessly during, and between, elections, and the capacity that the party has demonstrated to recruit from the pool of retired diplomats, civil servants and military officers, and give them appropriate positions, and its ability to co-opt regional leaders, the leaders of the opposition have demonstrated no such mettle. “Rahul bachao” as a surrogate for a fight to “restore democracy in India” cuts little ice with the folks in Kashipur, and I suspect, in much of India’s rural electorate. As of this writing, the 2024 general elections might still turn out to be rather like that of 2019, a “maintaining election” rather than a “transforming” one, like those of 1967, 1971 and 1977.The writer is emeritus professor of political science at Heidelberg University, Germany. His earlier study of Kashipur was published under the title ‘Ballot Box and Local Power: Electoral Politics in an Indian Village’, in the Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics
Amid a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country, India logged 3,095 new cases on Friday. The active caseload has increased to 15,208, as per the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s latest update.Meanwhile, the total toll has risen to 5,30,867 with five deaths. One death each has been reported by Goa and Gujarat and three in Kerala — in a span of 24 hours.The daily and weekly positivity rates were recorded at 2.61 per cent and 1.91 per cent respectively even as the total tally of Covid-19 cases was recorded at 4.47 crore.As per the ministry’s website, the active cases now comprise 0.03 per cent of the total infections and the national recovery rate has been pegged at 98.78 per cent.Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will hold a meeting on Friday to review the covid situation in the national capital, officials informed. Amid an increae in cases in Delhi, Health Minister Saurabh Bharadwaj and senior officials will also be present at the meeting.Bharadwaj had met with Health department officials on Thursday to take stock of the situation following which he said that the CM would hold a review meeting.Across the country, the number of people who have recuperated from the disease stands at 4.41 crore while the case fatality was recorded at 1.19 per cent.Meanwhile, 220.65 crore Covid vaccine doses have been administered under the nationwide drive so far.(With inputs from PTI)
The electoral battle in Karnataka has begun with the formal announcement of the poll schedule. In a little over 40 days from now, the political complexion of the state legislative assembly will be clear. Will the Karnataka voter usher in a new electoral trend or conform to past political traditions — is the question..In close to four decades, Karnataka has never voted back a ruling party with a majority. The last time this happened was in 1985 when the Ramakrishna Hegde-led Janata Party secured a clear majority. The BJP has never won a majority in the state’s assembly polls. It came close in 2008 and 2018. In 2008, it managed a majority with the help of independents and in 2018, the resignation of Congress and JDS MLAs secured the party a majority. The BJP hopes to reverse both these trends.Congress is banking on this trend to see it through beyond the majority mark. JDS, at a distant third position, hopes for an assembly with no party having secured a majority, thus having the chance to emerge as a king-maker and possibly the king once again.Having been in power for four years in Karnataka, the BJP is making an all-out effort to retain the state. Its strategy is four-fold. First, a clear focus on the central government and leadership. If the past three months are any indication, the party’s campaign will be directly led by its central leadership with a focus on what they would like to project as achievements of the central government. Any reference to the state government appears to be a belated afterthought. Second, the party is going into the election without declaring a chief ministerial candidate even though they have an incumbent chief minister. Former CM B S Yediyurappa will clearly be its star campaigner from among the state leaders. He is credited with having built up the party in the state and the BJP hopes to bank on his charisma. There is, of course, a difference this time around. He has announced his decision not to contest. In earlier elections, he was the chief ministerial face of the party. It would be interesting to see if this would make a difference.Third, the BJP will need to retain its traditional support in northern and coastal Karnataka and make inroads in the old Mysore region. In much of the latter, the traditional fight was between Congress and JDS. To secure a majority, the BJP needs to do well in old Mysore even as it retains its strong presence in north Karnataka. This explains the repeated tours of its national leaders to that part of the state. Lastly, the BJP is attempting to build a wider social coalition. While hoping that the Lingayats would continue to support the party, it is seeking to expand its support among the Vokkaligas, Other Backward Classes and Dalits. The reworking of the reservation quota was a step aimed at expanding this caste outreach. The backlash seen in the last week would need to be closely watched.Congress has always been a key player in the state. What has plagued the party is factionalism and lack of unity at crucial moments. The party, especially its state leadership, realises that without unity, the chance of becoming a majority party this time around would remain a dream. The two key leaders, Siddaramaiah and Shiva Kumar, have made their chief ministerial ambitions clear but have also not crossed the Lakshman Rekha, maintaining that this is a post-election decision. Whether the unity gets unstuck at the time of distribution of party tickets will be the litmus test. Till now, the party has focused on local issues, and on the BJP’s rule. Rahul Gandhi’s expulsion from the Lok Sabha has been added as a talking point in their campaign. The rainbow social coalition that Congress was traditionally known to draw its support from is being assiduously cultivated.The JDS remains a distant third force. It suffered a huge political setback in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls on account of its alliance with Congress. This allowed the BJP to make inroads into its traditional base in the old Mysore region. Its leader, Kumaraswamy, has stirred the political pot by claiming that both the Congress and BJP are in touch with it.Lokniti-CSDS post-poll surveys indicate that in recent years, most voters decide on whom they wish to vote for much before the announcement of the elections. This was true of Karnataka the last time around. To a certain extent, this reflects political polarisation. And given the committed voters of these parties, this does not appear surprising. The swing voter thus becomes important. The effort over the next 40 days will be to sway her. While many commentators are predicting a hung assembly, the vote in Karnataka could well be more decisive.The writer, a political analyst, is the national coordinator of Lokniti Network
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday said the CBI was “putting pressure” on him to “frame” Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an alleged fake encounter case in Gujarat when he was being questioned by the probe agency during the Congress-led UPA government.Shah said this at the ‘News 18 Rising India’ programme in New Delhi in response to a question on Opposition’s charge that the Narendra Modi government is “misusing’ central agencies to target them.The CBI “was putting pressure” on me to “frame Modi ji” (when he was Gujarat CM) in an alleged fake encounter case during the Congress government,” he said, adding that the BJP never raised a ruckus despite this.On Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in a criminal defamation case by a court in Surat, the home minister said the Congress leader was not the only politician who was convicted by a court and lost membership of the legislature.Instead of moving to a higher court, Rahul has been trying to create hue and cry and blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his fate, he said.Shah said Rahul Gandhi should go to a higher court to fight his case, instead of trying to put the blame on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.He said the Congress is spreading misconception; conviction can’t be stayed. “The sentence can be stayed if the court decides,” he said.“He has not appealed to take stay on his conviction. What kind of arrogance is this? You want a favour. You want to continue to be MP and will also not go before the Court,” Shah said.Where does such arrogance gets generated, he said.Shah said 17 prominent leaders, including Lalu Prasad, J Jayalalitha and Raashid Alvi, had lost their membership because of a 2013 Supreme Court order during the UPA government, which said an elected representative would lose his seat immediately after conviction. Still, no one protested wearing black clothes because it is the “law of the land”, he said.“Listen to the full speech of Rahul Gandhi, he has not only spoken abusive words for Modi ji. He has spoken abusive words for the entire Modi community and OBC society,” he said.“The law of the land is clear. There is no question of vendetta politics. It is the judgment of the Supreme Court of India, which had come during their government,” Shah said.Asked about the notice to vacate his bungalow, Shah asked why should there be “special favour” when the Supreme Court had said to act as soon as the conviction comes into effect.“It was a deliberate statement by Rahul Gandhi. If Rahul Gandhi did not want to apologise, then he should not have applied for bail. Let him not apologise,” Shah said.“This gentleman is not the first one. Politicians who held much bigger positions and with much more experience have lost their membership because of this provision,” the Home minister said.He said India’s democracy wasn’t threatened when Lalu ji was disqualified but it is endangered only when a person from the Gandhi family is disqualified.“Now it has come on him, so they are saying make a separate law for the Gandhi family. I want to ask the people of this country whether there should be a separate law for a single family. What kind of mentality is this? Whatever happens, they start blaming Modi ji and the Lok Sabha Speaker,” Shah said.He said senior lawyers who are Congress MPs in Rajya Sabha should tell their colleagues that Lok Sabha Speaker has no role in the disqualification.“It is the law of the country that all his speeches in Parliament would have to be erased from the records from the moment of his conviction. Even if his disqualification notice were served a few days later, it would have no purpose,” he said.Shah said BJP did not want changes in the Supreme Court order. The Manmohan Singh government brought an Ordinance to blunt the apex court order, but Rahul Gandhi tore it apart, calling it “nonsense”.“Once he tore it apart, who in his government would have dared to turn it into law? It was vetoed. Had that ordinance become a law, he could have been saved,” Shah said.Asked about Rahul’s comment on Savarkar, the Home Minister said Veer Savarkar was the only freedom fighter who was sentenced to two life terms in Andaman prison. “Such language for such a freedom fighter should not have been used,” he said.He (Rahul) should read his grandmother’s speech on Veer Savarkar. His own party people are advising him to not speak against Savarkar, he said.In the general election of 2024, Shah said Modi would again be PM with a larger majority. BJP will get more seats in the 2024 elections than 2019 elections, he said, adding that there is no unity among the opposition, he said.On the upcoming Karnataka elections, Shah said BJP would comfortably cross the halfway mark and form a government with a clear majority in the state.Ruling out any alliance in Karnataka, Shah said, “The BJP will definitely cross the halfway mark and form the government with an absolute majority in Karnataka. We will win record mandate.” Referring to recent Karnataka government’s decision to end quota on the basis of religion, he said reservation based on religion is unconstitutional.“Karnataka’s Congress government did it due to polarisation, and we have just rectified it. It should have done earlier,” he said.The Home minister rejected the allegations on the misuse of investigative agencies against the opposition leaders. Shah said we never blamed the opposition for anything, innocent police officers were put behind bars during Congress government.Shah said the BJP had won the 2014 and 2019 elections on the plank of anti-corruption. He said Enforcement Directorate had seized 1.10 lakh crore of assets, of which not even five per cent are of political leaders.“Shall we stop the fight against corruption? Should we not act if the accused is a politician,” Shah asked. The Home minister asked who had filed cases against Lalu Prasad Yadav and who had sent a plane full of officials from Delhi to arrest Shaikh Abdullah.Citing the misuse of agencies, Shah said thousands of innocent persons were imprisoned for 19 months of Emergency and questioned whose doing it was. It was his grandmother Indira Gandhi, he said.On the Maharashtra question, Shah said people wanted Shiv Sena and BJP government and now the real Shiv Sena is with BJP. “I also accept that BJP on its own could have formed the government in Maharashtra. There is no question of the merger of Shiv Sena,” he said.He said the Congress should introspect about its contribution to corruption. There is a strong resentment against Congress governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. We will definitely win elections in Madhya Pradesh, he said.Shah said we have not taken any decision on the face in Rajasthan elections. People want to change the CM of Rajasthan, he said.On Amritpal Singh, Shah said he meets Punjab Chief Minister every three months, irrespective of the government and stand with the party when it comes to the security of the country.“Many people have been arrested in connection with Amritpal case, police and intelligence agencies are working on the case,” he said.On attacks on Indian missions abroad, Shah said it was an attack on India. “We will take action against those involved in the attack, FIR already lodged in Delhi,” he said. Shah said the contribution of Sikhs to India’s freedom has been immense; every Sikh wants to be with India.The Home minister ruled out any confrontation between the judiciary and the government. “Both are working within their limits,” he said. The government’s duty to make law now and the Parliament will think over it, he said 
One-and-a-half months ahead of the Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll, on March 25, Punjab Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Bhagwant Mann, accompanied by Delhi CM and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, laid the foundation stone of the Guru Ravidass Bani Adhiyan (Research) Centre at Ballan village in Jalandhar district and handed over a cheque of Rs 25 crore to Sant Niranjan Dass – the head of Dera Sachkhand Ballan, the largest dera (religious place) of the Ravidassia community – as first instalment for construction of this research centre.One day earlier, the Congress MLA from Jalandhar’s Phillaur, Vikramjit Chaudhary, held a press conference to highlight his party-led previous government’s notifications regarding its grant of Rs 50 crore for establishing a “state-of-the-art” Guru Ravidass Bani Adhiyan Centre at Dera Sachkhand Ballan and its move to constitute a 10-member committee under the chairmanship of Sant Niranjan Dass, along with releasing a cheque of Rs 25 crore as the first instalment for the research centre’s construction, in December 2021.The Congress has accused the AAP government of taking “undue credit” over funding the Ravidass research facility, alleging that it “first stopped the fund for the project after coming to power, and now released it to claim all the credit”.Although the Dera Sachkhand Ballan has never come out openly in favour of any political party, no party could afford to ignore it, especially in the time of elections, in their bids to woo the Ravidassia community, the followers of Guru Ravidass.Senior leaders of the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BJP have always made a beeline at this Dera before every election.Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had paid a visit to Banaras, Guru Ravidass’ birthplace, on the Guru’s birth anniversary a few years ago.The Guru Ravidass memorial and temple in Banaras was also set up by Dera Sachkhand Ballan.Less than a month before the Punjab Assembly elections, originally slated for February 14, 2022, then Congress CM Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit leader, had urged the Election Commission of India to defer the polls by six days in view of the Guru Ravidass birth anniversary scheduled for February 16.In his letter to the EC then, Channi stated that some representatives of Punjab’s Scheduled Castes (SCs) have demanded that the polls be scheduled in such a way that they are able to visit Banaras during 10-16 February and also participate in the polls.In a rare move, the EC subsequently agreed to defer the Punjab polls to Feb 20, noting the wide range of representations it got in this regard. In the run-up to the polls, besides Channi, Kejriwal, then Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Badal and senior BJP leaders visited the Dera to meet Sant Niranjan Dass.Ahead of the 2017 Punjab elections, then All India Congress Committee (AICC) vice-president Rahul Gandhi had also visited Dera Sachkhand Ballan and met its head.Sant Niranjan Dass takes a “Begumpura” train full of the Ravidassia followers from Jalandhar to Banaras every year to celebrate Guru Ravidas Jayanti there for nearly a week.The killing of Sant Ramanand, who was Dera Sachkhand Ballan’s second in command, and the attack on Sant Niranjan Dass in Vienna in May 2009, had triggered violence and riots in the Doaba region, whose epicenter was Jalandhar. The episode had caused fissures in the relations between Sikhs and Ravidassias.The Dera had then severed its decades-old ties with Sikhism and announced a separate religion called “Ravidassia religion” in early 2010 in Banaras on Guru Ravidas Jayanti. They started replacing Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh religious book) with their own new Granth “Amritbani” carrying 200 hymns of Guru Ravidass in Ravidassia temples and gurudwaras, which led to several clashes between Sikhs and Ravidassias.Since the 2009 Vienna incident, Dera Sachkhand Ballan has become not only religiously assertive but also politically significant, amid the growing influence of the Ravidassia community over the politics of Punjab, which accounts for about 32 per cent Dalit population – the highest in the country in percentage terms.Dalits are concentrated more in Punjab’s Doaba region, where Dera Sachkhand Ballan is located. Of an estimated 20 lakh followers of this Dera worldwide, about 15 lakh are in Punjab, mostly from the Doaba region, which accounts for 23 of total 117 Assembly constituencies and two of the state’s 13 Lok Sabha seats.According to the 2011 Census, of Doaba’s total 52.08 lakh population,19.48 lakh (around 37%) are Dalits. Doaba comprises of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala districts. Of Doaba’s Dalit population, about 11.88 lakh people (around 61%) belong to the Ravidassia community.In the 2022 Asembly polls, when the Congress could win only 18 seats, 10 came to the party from Doaba itself.Dera Sachkhand Ballan was established over 100 years ago, in early 20th century, by Sant Baba Pipal Dass, who hailed from Gill Patti village in Bathinda district and was well-versed in the Guru Granth Sahib bani and Punjabi language.Sant Pipal Dass’ son Sant Sarwan Dass headed the Dera from 1928 to 1972, during which it grew significantly. Experts say that he set up the Guru Ravidass memorial at Banaras after identifying the Guru’s birthplace in Seer Goverdhanpur village near Banaras Hindu University.Sant Niranjan Dass is the 5th head of the Dera, whose work was appreciated by Sant Sarwan Dass. He used to visit the Dera as a child, and his parents were its followers.Marking a new phase in their political assertion, Ravidassias have demanded a separate column for their religion in the delayed 2021 Census. After the Vienna incident, the Ravidassia singers composed special songs centred on their caste and religion so that the people of the community could use them at their events instead of playing the songs composed by upper caste Jat Sikhs.Significantly, in February 2021, during their protests against the Centre’s three now-repealed farm laws, farmer protesters from both the Ravidassia and the Jat Sikh communities commemorated Guru Ravidass Jayanti together for the first time.
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