WHEN IT comes to the Doaba region, the main focus of most political parties is the Dalits, who account for the highest vote share among all communities in the region at 38%. But in Hoshiarpur — one of its two Lok Sabha (LS) constituencies — there is one other group that will play a key role this election.
In Hoshiarpur — which has the highest literacy rate (as per 2011 census) with 85%, higher than the state’s 75.8% literacy rate — ex-servicemen and serving defence personnel and their families together form a population of 3 lakh.
In Hoshiarpur district alone, there are 45,000 registered ex-servicemen and 8,000 widows of ex-servicemen as per information sourced from the District Sainik Welfare Board. Apart from them, there are 17,882 service electors as per recent data released by the Chief Electoral Office (CEO) of Punjab.
There are also a large number of people who have retired from paramilitary forces.
In Hoshiarpur, there are a total 15.97 lakh voters including 7.65 lakh females and 8.32 lakh males. Hoshiarpur has nine assembly segments — Hoshiarpur, Shah Chaurasi, Chabbewal, Tanda Urmur, Mukerian, Dasuya, Phagwara, Bholath and Shri Hargobindpur.
Most of the ex-servicemen here belong to rural constituencies including Kandi area.
This community primarily comprises Rajputs — Thakurs, Jat Sikhs and Adharmis. Dasuya, Mukeraian (both having large area under Kandi belt), Shri Hargobindpur, Tanda Urmur has maximum members in the army.
Both Congress’s Dr Raj Kumar Chabbewal and BJP candidate Som Parkash claim to have the support of ex-servicemen.
Raj Kumar, an ex-servicemen and now a farmer from Thana village under Dasuya sub-division in Hoshiarpur said that like Dalits, ex-servicemen votes are also divided in this constituency; they support and vote for Congress or BJP mainly. “The Modi government has not done anything for farmers but it has implemented One Rank One Pension (OROP) to some extent and the 7th Pay Commission which led to enhancement of our pension by a few thousand rupees,” he said, adding that the Balakot air strike hardly matters to them because it is an Army act and the BJP should not take credit for it.
“Both Congress and SAD-BJP ruled in Punjab for decades, but there is no pucca road to our village till date,” said Raj Kumar, adding, “We have to passing through a choe (a small water stream) to reach our house.”
Sukhdev Singh, a retired Subedar Major from Januari village, which has a 60 per cent of ex-servicemen, said that Modi government has failed to generate jobs for the educated. “In our area, youth are left with no option but to join the army,” he said, adding that the youth should get other government jobs too.
Tarlochan Singh of Kukanet village said that in their village the ex-servicemen are a divided lot at the moment and would vote for different parties.
“Even after seven decades of independence, for us no party is good because in Kandi area, there are no proper roads, no hospitals, no drinking water or irrigation facility. We depend on the rains to cultivate our fields,” said ex-servicemen Ranjit Singh of Hazipur.
“In past elections, it has been observed that whichever candidate the ex-servicemen category predominantly votes for has won the election,” said Shakti Singh, ex-subedar major and president of the War Heroes Memorial Committee at Dhol Baha village, adding that due to the high literacy rate here, majority voters either vote relying on their own judgement, or don’t vote at all.