‘Scholarship, SC staffers promotions issues pushed Dalits away from Cong’
Choudhary Santokh Singh managed to win Jalandhar parliamentary seat but his victory margin came down in a direct contest with Charanjit Singh Atwal of SAD, which has been facing voters anger over issues like sacrilege. He explains the shift in voting patterns in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls.
Your margin came down very drastically this time even as Jalandhar has traditionally been a safe seat for the Congress. What happened?
It happened due to religious polarization this time. It never happened earlier in Punjab, especially in Doaba region. BJP this time succeeded in polarizing the voters this time and it is not a good sign for the state or the country. Then PDA aligning with left parties and BSP also caused some damage to us but we shall overcome this loss in assembly polls. There were certain local issues too.
Did you lose your traditional core vote base in urban areas this time ?
We suffered loss of our core vote base in urban areas due to polarization. Earlier, we used to do better in urban areas as compared to rural areas but for the first time the trend was reversed. Luckily, a significant chunk of Sikh voters turned to us this time with issue of sacrilege and police firing at Nakodar in 1986 weighing heavily on their minds. I raised issue of Nakodar firing in most of my election speeches and now after winning I shall pursue this issue for justice. Panthic constituency Shahkot gave us the biggest lead and played crucial role in victory.
Dalits turned towards BSP in Doaba region in a major way. How do you explain this phenomena?
Even as the Congress managed to retain its base among Dalit voters, a chunk of them went to BSP as issue of postmatric scholarship was working on their minds. In fact, BSP caused more damage to SAD-BJP, but some damage was caused to us too. Pending promotions of scheduled caste employees in government jobs was also a factor. Dalit sentiment was strong this time and BSP managed to exploit it and targeted the Congress through false propaganda even as we fought for the SCs. BSP created a false impression that it fought for rights of SCs even as theirs was more rhetoric than fighting it at institutional level.
What will be your agenda for Jalandhar constituency?
I shall pursue the projects already in pipeline. I shall try for upgradation of Adampur domestic airport to international airport and beginning of cargo flights so that farmers here can opt for diversification and their produces can be sent abroad. I will also try to bring industrial cluster here especially the heavy industry. We also need an AIIMS-like medical centre here to cater to entire Doaba. I will urge the state government to increase spending on education and fill up the vacant posts. I shall be trying to get a centre of higher education in Jalandhar.
With just 52 MPs, what kind of opposition will the Congress be in Parliament?
Challenge is very big but we shall play role of very effective opposition. We shall fight every inch.