Anti-dhakka shahi

Message from Punjab may echo in other states: can't subvert state for the party

Among the 40 shabads and one shloka of the 14th century Bhakti saint Ravidass that are included in the Guru Granth Sahib, is "Begampura". Be-gam-pura, or the land without sorrow. The spirit of the verse is this: Begampura is the name of the city where there is no suffering or anxiety, no fear or downfall/ Begampura is the city where there is sovereignty of god/ Where there is lasting peace and safety for all/ All are equal, no one is second or third in Begampura/ Ravidass the Shoemaker is a friend of all who are citizens of Begampura.

Unnoticed in the just concluded election in Punjab, the Begampura Lok Party, floated by some followers of saint Ravidass, made its electoral debut by putting up six candidates in Doaba region. Doaba is home to the largest concentration of Dalits in Punjab, a majority of whom are followers of Ravidass and have traditionally worshipped the Guru Granth Sahib because their saint's baani or teaching is enshrined in it.

Doaba has also been the backdrop of a social and political confrontation between the Ravidassis and mainstream, Jat-dominated Sikhism represented by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The flashpoint came in 2009 with a shootout in Vienna, allegedly by "radical Sikhs", in which the head of the Dera Sachkhand Ballan, the largest dera of the Ravidassis in the region, was injured and his second-in-command killed.

Essentially, Doaba's new party is a gesture of defiance against the political mainstream seen to be insensitive to the plight of the Ravidassis. It takes no great political acumen, however, to predict that the picturesque flailing will prove electorally futile.

As they queued up at the polling booths last week, for the people of Punjab, Begampura was not on the ballot paper — or in the political imagination. There was no ideal state on the political menu, or the possibility of a clean slate. The choice inside the polling booth was neither heroic nor stark.

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