The Times of India: Panjab CM Caste Identity

   Posted by: aman   in Punjab

Dear Friends,

Recently, Jairaj Singh from The Times of India asked me for an explainer on the caste identity of the new Panjab CM. I must state caste in Panjab and in India is extremely complex and cannot be summarised in an article. Yet, here is an attempt to list some pointers at least. Since the article is behind paywall, here is my text.

Headline: Why new Punjab CM is not just a Dalit face

Shoulder: To look at it through the prism of identity politics only ends up exaggerating the Jat-Dalit fault line, as if that has been Punjab’s primary concern. Charanjit Singh Channi’s greatest strength is that he’s a ‘common man’.

Column: On September 20, as soon as the Congress high command selected Charanjit Singh Channi to replace Captain Amarinder Singh as Punjab’s 16th chief minister, the news headlines began to scream: “First Dalit Sikh CM”. Many on social media naively asked, if there is even caste in Punjab? Some pundits floated theories that this is a stop-gap arrangement for Navjot Singh Sidhu to take over as CM, if Congress is elected next term.

Before we dive deeper into this. We need to know that to understand any people, any social or religious community, it is vital to look at the history and the political economy of that society for context.

A Culture Cauldron

For more than three millennia, Punjab has been the gateway to the Indian subcontinent. On modern maps you can trace 20 countries — Macedonia to Turkey to Steppes to Mongolia — from where exodus to Punjab took place. Empires flourished during the Mauryan, Gupta, Harsha empires and later Mughal reigns. Even as Arabs, Ghaznavids, Durranis invaded the land, long before the British took control of it, imagine how many blood lines have mixed in the great cauldron, turning it into perhaps one of the greatest gene pools in the world? If one were to go by the tenets of Manu Smriti, this churning led to what a scholar explained to me as “Punjab being the apotheosis of Shudra culture”.

Through these millennia, while power shifted between kings and empires, the Punjab society moved from pastoral to agrarian, and the people took to arms in self-defence alongside being farmers, traders, ironsmiths, carpenters, tailors, leather workers, manual scavengers, and so on. These trades, informed by power dynamics, created hierarchical layers in Punjab’s society. This, in a crux, is Punjab’s caste structure. It is unlike the caste logic of the Gangetic plains, or in the regions south of Narmada, which, to an extent, are sanctified through religious texts and practices.

Punjab’s Complexity

The Sikh religion was founded in the 16th century and the Khalsa was inaugurated in the early 18th century. The ten Gurus indeed preached equality. The eleventh guru the Guru Granth Sahib contains verses by Bhagats, Bhatts and Pirs from across religions and castes. However, the reality of any religious community is more than its ideals. The fact is that like any other religion with their founders, even Sikhs have fallen short of the ideals by which they must live.

In the 19th century, the British tried to slot people into spreadsheets through census. But their categories of caste and tribe and race kept shifting. They formed regiments for so-called low caste Mazhabis, even as they declared the Sikhs on the whole as a ‘martial race’. The history is long and winding, but as of now, the Jats, the landed caste, dominate the politics of Punjab, and the Dalits, who constitute 31.9 per cent of the population, remain largely powerless. This is because in Punjab’s agrarian political economy, land is of immense value.

In current times, we might get an insight into caste through studying the aftereffects of the Green Revolution. While earlier in villages, Jats owned the land, the many trades formed the ecosystem of the land. Profits were shared through mutual agreements. With greater mechanisation due to the Green Revolution, the role of other trades in farming was reduced, which led to the Jats earning well though economic disparity became stark.

After the trifurcation of Punjab in 1966, in both the religious institutions and political parties, Jats began to edge out the trading class. Social mobility, aided by religious dominance and political power, abetted by influx of migrant labour, hardened the caste lines in Punjab. Towards the end of the previous century, Dalits — unencumbered by land whose profits were shrinking — mobilised themselves and took to urban livelihoods. The surge of Deras also provided social capital and widened the differences between Jats and Dalits. Though, it must be mentioned, most Deras are actually run by Jats.

The differences led to separate Gurdwaras and cremation sites and fights of villages over common land. Meanwhile, the welfare state did not provide for the Dalits by ways of schools, hospitals and employment opportunities. While Dalits languished, Jats could earn from, or monetise their land, and provide facilities to their next generations.

Punjab’s dominant music and culture too — barring the recent farmer protest songs — has pandered to the dominant patriarchal and feudal mindset. This is countered a bit through Dalit resurgence songs. While Jats claim the Sikh religion does not sanction casteism, the lived experience of Dalits tells an entirely different story.

Beyond Identity Politics

In this mix, Channi has made history. Yes, he is Dalit, from the Ramdasia community, which used to deal in leather. Congress found him an ideal candidate because rural Dalits are the party’s core vote bank, and they want to retain it. This also helps them negate the Shiromani Akali Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party tie-up and torpedo the Aam Aadmi Party move to nominate a Dalit deputy chief minister. But highlighting Channi’s being Dalit is similar to British ascribing people on spreadsheet columns. It is a parochial view and ends up exaggerating the Jat-Dalit fault line as if that has been Punjab’s primary concern.

For example, take the current jathedar of the Akal Takht. No one raised an eyebrow when Giani Harpreet Singh took the post. Giani Ditt Singh’s role as a reformer and scholar of the Singh Sabha movement is a part of historical records. The fact that the restoration of Dalits’ right to offer karah prasad at Darbar Sahib on October 12, 1920 led to the formation of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Gurdwara Reform Movement cannot be overlooked.

Coming back to Channi, his face alone is not enough to swing one-third of Punjab’s votes. The systemic oppression of weaker castes is such that they are heavily fragmented. There are differences between Mazhabis, Valmikis, Ad-Dharmis and Ravidassias. That is why, though Kanshi Ram was from Punjab, BSP could only manage to form its government in Uttar Pradesh. Also, by now, caste cynicism is deeply entrenched. A labour leader not long ago asked me: “Every election Punjab elects 34 reserved candidates. What have they done for us? What is the president of the nation doing for Dalits? Merely installing faces is symbolic.”

Channi comes from the eastern Puad region, which has been historically neglected. He is well-educated — he has a Master’s degree and an MBA, plus he is a lawyer, and has even enrolled for a doctorate. At 58, he is two decades younger than the outgoing CM Amarinder Singh. His greatest strength is, as he said in his inaugural address, “I am a common man.” After all, he does not belong to Punjab’s dominant political families and offers a clear break from royalty — like Captain — and almost-royalty — the Badals. This time, Congress has presented itself to the people without the baggage of feudalism. Yes, it may be symbolic, but symbols too have value.

In the post-militancy years, Manmohan Singh’s elevation as prime minister had changed the perception of Sikhs in the country. Now it depends on what Channi is able to achieve in the next four months before elections. It is here that Congress must observe caution: If Channi wins the Congress the next elections, the high command must repeat him as CM for the next term and root out the ‘stop gap’ speculation. That will be Congress’ test in Punjab. In any case, Captain has resigned from CMship, not from politics. His anger against his arch-rival Sidhu is only too apparent. One thing is clear: No one can yet say what the 2022 elections will throw up in Punjab.

To read article, click here …


Outlook: Panjab CM Change

   Posted by: aman   in Punjab

Dear Friends,

Outlook asked me for a write up on the change of CM in Panjab. Here is my piece. Since it is behind pay wall. Please find text inline:

Congress Bowls A Caste Googly: A Dalit Sikh As Chief Minister Of Punjab Ahead Of State Polls

When former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, said, ‘A week is a long time in politics’, he might have Maharashtra in mind, not Panjab. In Panjab, between last Saturday and Sunday, within almost 24 hours, the Congress high command effected a massive change which upturns the state’s history of selection of chief ministers. It not only pushed former royalty Captain Amarinder Singh to resign but also installed an unlikely common man, a Dalit Sikh as the chief minister.

Before we come to the change of guard, a generally asked question is: how can Panjab, where Sikhs are 56 per cent population, which suffered Operation Blue Star and the anti-Sikh pogrom at the hands of the Congress, repose faith in the Congress? Let me illustrate with three examples. First, Captain resigned from Congress after Operation Blue Star. Second, in his last term, Captain’s big stroke was the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 cancelling the sharing of river waters with Haryana and Rajasthan. The Congress high command and the then prime minister were very unhappy with the move, but Captain scored a brownie point and precipitated a constitutional crisis. Third, before this term, his authorised biography claims, in 2015 he threatened to quit the Congress and float his own party to fight elections if he was not made state chief. These examples illustrate Panjab warmed up not to Congress but to a rebel leader within the Congress. Captain’s major draw has been that he has stood up to the high command in Delhi, hence he would protect Panjab’s interests. This was seen in Captain’s handsome victory in Amritsar over BJP’s Arun Jaitley in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

When Congress was bidding for power in 2017, under Captain’s leadership, there were two dominant issues in Punjab: sacrilege of holy books, over 200 issues of the Granth Sahib, Gutka Sahib, Holy Quran, Ramayan, Gurdwaras being desecrated; drugs, the notion that Panjab was in the grip of a lethal drug smuggling racket, abetted by Rahul Gandhi’s false figures of ‘7 in 10 youth are drug addicts’ and movies like Udta Punjab. To negate the impact of the Aam Aadmi Party bid to power, on December 15, 2015, captain vowed on the Sikh holy book, the Gutka Sahib, a shortened version of the Guru Granth Sahib, to ‘break the back of the drug menace’ within four weeks of being elected; end corruption in public office; and provide employment to unemployed youth.

This was a tall order. So tall, that it was realistically impossible. Yet, since Captain had said it, since it was sworn of the holy book, people took his word. During the course of his campaign, Captain promised farm loan waiver to all, rallied against the sand and gravel and liquour and transport mafias and asked for votes on the plea this was his last term. He wanted voters to enable him to leave a worthy legacy with Panjab back on the path of progress.

Hence, once elected, people expected him to fulfil his promises. But, he didn’t. In his conduct, Captain has been the personification of royal disinterest in the affairs of the common people. The first signs of Captain’s failure could be seen when Captain’s famed promise to waive farm loans, from projected ?73,000 crore estimated by universities, was limited to loans taken from cooperative societies, for farmers owning not more than 2.5 acres of land and a loan value of up to ?2 lakh. The actual waiver amount came down to ?4624 crore till date. In July, 2018, the people of the state, frustrated with the drug menace, held a Black Week Against Drugs – Either Die or Protest. The promise to break the back of drugs had led to major infighting in the police department which was showing up to be hand-in-glove with the illegal trade. The mafias continued, unemployment remained high, corruption in public office did not abate, office of the CM was run from Captain’s residence, there have been massive protests by unemployed and underemployed teachers, by farm labourers. In August 2019, Congress MLAs questioned Captain on his performance. There were no answers. Captain had the entire state machinery in his control.

Meanwhile, the all-important sacrilege cases, the unprovoked firing at Behbal Kalan and Kotakapura, on which Captain had even conducted a special Assembly session and taken back consent from Central Bureau of Investigation over the cases, also came to nought. This April, the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed an investigation into the Kotakapura firing case. The informal discourse of sacrilege and firing targets the Badals, but once again they are off the hook. This is similar to how in 2017 Captain had fought from an additional seat at Lambi, just to help former CM and Akali stalwart Prakash Singh Badal win. This prompted Congress to set up a probe panel to sort out the issue. Finally, Captain’s error was: instead of preparing for succession, Captain betrayed his appeal to people and entered the bid for another term to rule the state as CM.

Once Navjot Singh Sidhu took over as Panjab Pradesh Congress head in July this year, he entered a head-on fight with Captain. Developments in the last few days show, Captain has had his comeuppance earlier than when normally leaders of parties have them – in elections which are still five months away. The outcry on Captain resigning is indicative of two aspects: one, those opposed to BJP are aghast how Congress could mess with the one state it had handsomely won; two, most media has no inkling of what really goes on in Panjab. For years, Captain has remained a loud nationalist – baiting Pakistan, posturing over Kartarpur Sahib corridor, supporting Army Major who dragged a civilian in front of his jeep. No one asked if these stances by a border state’s CM have been in the interest of Panjab, the state that elected him to power. Or if he has been furthering arch rival Bhartiya Janata Party’s agenda.

Through the change of CM, given the uneven electoral turf of Panjab – Akalis and AAP still in disarray – the Congress has moved deftly to prevent the party from facing a debacle in the February 2022 elections. The change is huge because in Channi, first time in many decades Panjab has a CM out of the top ruling families in Panjab. As far as the value of symbolic faces in an electoral democracy goes, it is a smart move. As a Dalit Sikh face, in the state with highest percentage Dalit population at 31.9 per cent, from the neglected eastern Puad region, Congress has apparently check-mated the Akali-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, the BJP overtures to Dalits, beaten AAP’s projection of a deputy CM candidate and attempted to retain its old voter base. But as a veteran journalist says, and considering the fact that Dalits are not a monolith, they do not vote together, ‘It is too early still to assess the power of a whisper campaign. Who knows what will happen?’

While Channi is an interesting selection, the way the Congress high command fumbled with selecting the next CM reveals it still does not understand Panjab’s ground realities. At this point, given the limited time Channi has before elections, unlike Captain’s bombast, he would do well to remain modest and grounded and cover as much ground as possible. The Congress must remember: if Channi sees the party through the elections, they must continue with him as the next full-term CM. Panjab, Puad and Dalits have been neglected for long, Congress would do well to demonstrate its intentions are sincere and honourable.

To access article, click here …


The Hindu: Panjab CM Change

   Posted by: aman   in Punjab

Dear Friends,

Yesterday afternoon Sampath G from The Hindu spoke to me on the change of CM in Panjab. It is 27.30 minutes. English.

Please listen here …


Farmers Protest: Bommai

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 300

Toll 605


Basavaraj Bommai, the Karnataka chief minister from BJP, recently said in the state assembly that the farmers protest are sponsored by the Congress. There cannot be a bigger joke like this. How can Congress, which can’t keep its flock together, engineer such a huge supply-chain management for 10 months on delhi’s borders which could really test any CEO or military general.

It is pertinent to mention Bommai is the son of one of the most important Janata Dal chief minister SR Bommai whose famous case against union of India on arbitrary dismissal of governments by the Centre is considered a landmark. To see the son of a Lohiaite now turn saffron and spread such canard is unbecoming of a chief minister.

A few weeks back, when appointed CM – a seat that Yediyurappa made possible for him after his alleged ‘friend’ Shobha Karandlaje was appointed Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare – Bommai had said he is forming a committee to double farmers income by 2023-24.


Isn’t Modi going to double farmers income by 2022? Next year? Wasn’t that his promise? Please do not double farmers income. Just give a legal guarantee on C2 + 50% as MSP. That is enough.

The farmers protest clearly tears bare the many lies of the BJP government, whether in state or centre. Then they hide behind such lies to fill the time.

The same is happening with Akali Dal in Panjab. Having failed to stop the Farm Laws from being passed in Parliament, symbolically Harsimrat Kaur Badal, former Minister of Food Processing Industries resigned from the Modi Cabinet, Akali Dal pulled out of the Modi government, but is still not being accepted by the people of Panjab.

Yet, these leaders continue to lie and fool the people. We too, I guess, enjoy being fooled.


Film: Why India Needs To Undo the Green Revolution

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 298

Toll 602

Dear Friends,

a while back Raunaq Singh Chopra from ScoopWhoop had interviewed me on my views on the farmers protest, especially on the aftereffects of the Green Revolution. Later they interviewed others too Devinder Sharma, Vandana Shiva, Richa Kumar and Anmol Sandhu.

Here is their consolidated film, with subtitles, in three parts mixing ground footage, graphs, documents and statistics and our views. I just watched the film. It is a very competent exposition of the Green Revolution, its aftereffects and the farmers protest.

Part 1: 18.03 mins
Part 2: 24.19 mins
Part 3: 17.52 mins

I feel they are worth watching to understand the various dimensions of the protest.


Farmers Protest: Judicial Block

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 297

Toll 601

Judicial Block

A few days back, on the basis of a writ petition filed by a NOIDA resident, the Supreme Court had ordered the Haryana government to talk to protesting farmers to open one side of the National Highway-44 blockade at the Kundli-Singhu. The site falls under Haryana jurisdiction.

It is a strange order. Right from the beginning of the protests, knowing how Courts behave, the farmers have chosen not to take the Court route to solve the imbroglio over Farm Laws. Still, in December, the Supreme Court decided to constitute a panel to look into the matter. In end of March, the panel submitted it report in a sealed envelope to the Court.

Yet, even now, almost six months later the Court and the government has not found time to open the envelope, make contents public. On this matter of the blocked road, under Supreme Court orders, the Haryana government has formed a high level panel to discuss with farmers but what is the use?

The road blocks by farmers are against the Centre. They are meant to obstruct government functioning. They are a non-violent method of seeking government attention to solve the issues around Farm Laws. What is the point of lifting the road barricades when the government has not solved the issues?

Also, note, locals at all protests sites – in spite of heavy losses in business – are still supporting the farmers. On their part, farmers are trying to insure locals do not suffer as adversely as they could. Service lanes are being kept open as far as possible. During the COVID-19 second wave, farmers had opened the roads for free flow of Oxygen. But since the protest is on, the road blockade is a form of protest.

It is the police that has blocked the service lanes, not the farmers. The barricades, the stone slabs, the concertina wires are by the police, not farmers.

In a well thought out decision the Samyukth Kisan Morcha has decided not to meet with the Haryana panel. The Courts and the state governments can’t localise these massive protests as traffic issues. The Centre has to face the farmers and repeal the laws, legalise MSP. Only then will road blocks be moved. Else, they will remain judicial blocks.


Farmers Protests: human cost 600

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Posted September 17, 2021

On Day 295, with 600 human lives lost, what are the farmers really against?

This: $24 Billion deposit


Farmers Protest: 28 Farm Suicides per Day

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 294

Toll 599

28 Farm Suicides per Day

Two days days back I had put up earnings of farmer per day according to the Indian government survey. Sadly, data on farmer and labour suicides has not been available for a few years now. Neither in the Parliament (last question answered was in 2016), nor on the Statistics Department website.

Last we knew, 3.5 lakh farmers and labour had committed suicide in last two decades. The number quoted in some circles is 4 lakh.

While browsing for something else, here is a report I came across based on National Crime Records Bureau. It was published a few months back. It pegs the number at an average of 28 suicides per day. It says:

‘The latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows more than 10,000 farmers and agricultural labourers killed themselves in 2019 — that’s 7.4 per cent of India’s total suicide victims. (As a comparison, students also made up 7.4 per cent while civil servants accounted for 1.2 per cent.)’

Farmer and labour is vulnerable, students are vulnerable, there have been immense job loses, civil servants are committing suicide. As a country we are a ticking time bomb, ready to explode.

Yet, our silence. Our status quo.

See here …


Farmers protest: Whither Captain?

   Posted by: aman   in Punjab

Day 293

Toll 599

Now that there is a lull in the Sidhu-Captain struggle saga in Panjab, Captain has gone ahead and provoked the farmers. Yesterday, he asked farmers protesting in Panjab at 113 locations for close to a year now to shift protest solely to Delhi and Haryana. The reason, he says is, people are inconvenienced and protests hamper economic growth.

Imagine the chutzpah! For four and a half years Captain has neglected the state and now he says farmers protest are harming development. It is for reasons like these I say Captain – while he nominally belongs to Congress – is the most cloaked face of the Sangh. In reality, Captain is a coterie unto his own. When it suits him he spouts nationalism, when it suits him he speaks Panjab’s interest.

Also yesterday, in an unfortunate turn of events, the SKM stage was used to issue a statement against a community elder S. Hardeep Singh Dibdiba. If you recollect, on January 26th, a young man lost his life near Red Fort. Navreet Singh was Dibdiba’s grandson. Police maintains the death occurred because Navreet Singh lost control of his tractor, the tractor tuned turtle, he fell and injured himself fatally. Some media and local sources maintain Navreet was shot at which led to him losing control of the tractor.

At that time, SKM immediately distanced itself from Navreet’s death. In fact, for at least a week SKM did not recover from the events of Republic Day and made all kinds of defensive statements, calling the younger lot in-disciplined and many more adjectives. When, in fact, the Tractor Rally was SKM’s call to start with and SKM never explained the logic behind the route change. Since losing his grandson, Dibdiba has been campaigning to bring the youth and SKM together. Later, once the protest was stable again, SKM honoured Navreet as a martyr.

This statement yesterday, though very brief, came from Dibdiba’s son Bikramjit Singh Hundal who is Navreet’s father. It is clear there is a rift in the family. It is an older rift, going back a few decades, when perhaps Dibdiba neglected his own family.

To me, SKM’s role in the immediate aftermath of Republic Day and yesterday remains problematic. I believe, any fight we take on is finally about our personalities, our character. If SKM has to lead this struggle over the morality of laws, it must itself also rise above exploiting family rifts and allowing its stage to be used to wash dirty linen in public. There is no end to Panjab’s internecine rivalries and SKM must realise it has always been a much bigger entity than just a front for a Panjab-based protest. These talks overall lead to SKM earning a bad name for itself.

In any case now the idea of SKM has spread and individual states are coming up with their own chapters. Haryana, Uttrakhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh are all starting their own SKM chapters. This is part of UP Mission, Bharat Bandh preparations – on September 27th, and for the longer innings in which farmers now find themselves.

Right now a Kisan Sansad is underway in Jaipur. The Sansad model has really worked for farmers and it is good that it is being replicated across sates. The media, if in solidarity, gets to publish concise, accurate information on the Farm Laws. The message spreads, hopefully far and wide.


Farmers Protest: Re 27/day

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Posted on September 14, 2021

Day 292

Toll 599

Re 27/day

‘An Indian farmer earned ?27 per day on average from cultivation in 2018-19. This is less than what he would have earned doing MGNREGS work through the year.’ Hindustan Times

Click here to see graphic and story.