Rajinder Singh, a resident of Pakka Chisti village in Fazilka district, packed his bags and onto a trolley, along with family, started moving to relative’s place in Abohar, safe from any “retaliatory” attacks from across the border.
“The evacuation alert was taken seriously,” said Rajinder Singh. “But my relative in Rajasthan, who live just 2 km away from the border are living a normal life. There were no alerts for them and they have not evacuated. So why are we being made to suffer?” The question has been repeated in many evacuation camps, which are slowly filling up.
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The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are sniffing a “political design” in the evacuation orders in border villages of Punjab and not in neighbouring Rajasthan and fear the upcoming elections in early 2017 may be delayed to “buy time to handle anti-incumbency” against the government.
Even as leaders of both AAP and Congress pointed out that they had hailed the Indian Army and were united with the Centre on its action, they said they were unable to understand why evacuation orders were issued only in Punjab only and not other border states and whether the entire exercise could cast a shadow on the Assembly
Sources said the issue had been discussed internally by both the parties and emphasis had been laid on chalking out a strategy if such a situation arises. The Congress party’s chief spokesperson and vice president of the Punjab Congress, Sunil Kumar Jakhar, told The Indian Express that he went to a village on the Rajasthan border lining Pakistan but was “shocked” to see that no evacuation of villages had been ordered in that state.
“We hold our Army in the highest esteem and hail their swift action (surgical strikes). But we fail to understand why the political leaders are creating panic by ordering evacuation when there is no build up of the armed forces on the border,” said Jakhar.
He said it was “unpatriotic” to question the move but added that he was merely wondering if Pakistan would only target Punjab and spare Rajasthan.
“There is no such alert in Rajasthan. There is no doubt that security should be paramount but panic has spread too much in the border belt of Punjab through the evacuation order,” he said after meeting with evacuees in relief camps.
Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, MLA from Dera Baba Nanak, said he had spoken to his friends in Rajasthan and Gujarat border villages but none of those villages were evacuated, “We do not know what Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is up to. Why are so many people being inconvenienced,” he said.
Former Punjab Congress president and Rajya Sabha member Partap Singh Bajwa called the evacuation a knee-jerk reaction. He said at least 300 villages fell in each border district and a grant of Rs 1 crore to every district meant and amount of Rs 10 for every individual roughly. “What is going on?” he asked.
AAP leaders, who did not wish to be named, said it appeared as if the government wanted to “postpone” the election as they feared their “stock was down.” “If we are told that the election is postponed, we will certainly slacken and take it easy while it is time for a rigorous campaign. Such concerns are there,” said a senior party leader.
AAP’s state convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi said, “It is too early to say anything. We support the Army. But if people will learn at a later stage that the evacuation was a political move, they will not forgive and forget.”
Political parties have dropped in to support the people during their time fo distress. The AAP issued a special helpline number for border residents to contact them and assured them all possible help.
AAP’s H S Phoolka in a Facebook post commented: “Over 950 villages are being vacated in Punjab… why in Rajasthan & Gujarat there is no such move … We expect government to explain why this panic only in Punjab…”
Kamal Sharma former state BJP President was motivating people that evacuation was for their safety and NDA Government was dealing with Pakistan with an iron hand. BJP leader Sukhpal Singh Nannu, who is former MLA Ferozepur, organised a langar for those who preferred to stay in their homes.
“Politicians have to do their bit to support us, but elections are far away and we will see what to do at that time,” said Massa Singh Nambardar of the same village.