CHANDIGARH: Residents of the border districts of Punjab are weary of the constant war rhetoric of the BJP and say they are the first to be affected by war and would not like its recurrence.
“Why do they keep talking of war? Have they experienced it? In times of wear, it’s us who are affected. We have to relocate with our household goods and cattle and lose our crops while we have to live like refugees. But they talk of war, like it were a game,” said Gurdeep Singh of Thaman village in Gurdaspur. He wants political parties to address the real issues on the ground that pertain to development.
“No development has taken place in the border areas. If war breaks out, we in the frontline districts suffer. There are no bridges on the river Ravi and we have to cross it by boat. What to speak of development!” exclaimed an exasperated Singh.
Harjinder Singh of Saktra village of Tarantaran district and Baldev Singh of Tejarahela village in Fazilka district are equally frustrated. “We want peace between India and Pakistan,” they say in unison.
“They (politicians) do not feel the trauma that we face. We wish we had the little things in life which political parties could easily provide us, if they were serious.”
As if on cue, the ruling Congress has pitched the incident of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib to ride the Lok Sabha elections this time, while the SAD-BJP alliance, sensing the mood, is raking up the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, after failing to get traction for the nationalist narrative, post the Balakot air strikes.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, himself a former army officer, had been slamming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for trying to take credit for the air strikes, saying the PM has nothing else to show.
The BJP faces an uphill task this time in Punjab which, even at the height of the Modi wave in 2014, had voted against the national mood with the SAD-BJP alliance winning 5 seats and Congress and AAP winning 4 each. However, the saffron party’s vote share was just 8.7%.
Surjit Singh Bhaur, the vice-president, Punjab Border Kisan Union, claimed, “In the 220 villages on the India-Pakistan border across six border districts of the state, the PM’s narrative of national defence is no issue. Residents of these villages feel whenever a war breaks out, they suffer. They don’t want war. What they want is that parties speak of ground realities — jobs, farm distress, education and health facilities.”
Dittoes political analyst Kuldeep Singh: “Hindu nationalism, which has been invoked by BJP in a big way in these elections, does not appeal to the electorate in Punjab. They want work of the last five years to be the reference point. Nationalism has limited appeal.
“The real issue of drug abuse in Punjab has not been taken up in a big way by political parties. When SAD-BJP rakes it up, it backfires on them as there is a perception among the people that it was during their tenure that this problem reached alarming proportions. The ruling Congress has been accused of soft-pedalling on the issue. The SAD-BJP alliance attacks the Congress on non-performance in the first two years of its tenure, while the ruling party talks of nothing but the desecration episode. Now, once again the 1984 anti-Sikh riots issue is being blown up for political gains,” he said.
“In villages, nobody even cares about covering the open drains passing in front of the houses. Politicians only come to get our votes, not to provide any facility,” said Ram Singh of Nasrala village in Hoshiarpur.