Updated: January 16, 2022 10:35:47 pm
THE most famous flyover in Punjab now, the Piareana overpass in Ferozepur district came up just six months ago. It is unimpressive by the standards of its city counterparts, all of 600 metres and built at a cost of Rs 4 crore by the National Highways Authority of India. But it was here that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was stuck for over 20 minutes on January 5, placing the small stretch on the Ludhiana-Ferozepur road, with 10-12 shops on one side and the Piareana village lining it, plonk at the heart of the BJP’s poll discourse.
The most action this area expected to see was at the PGI Satellite Centre, about 9 km away, which was where the PM was to go that day after paying homage at the National Martyrs’ Memorial in Hussainiwala. One of the reasons the flyover came up was to cater to the expected traffic increase following the unveiling of the PGI centre.
Shuminder Pal Singh Matharu, who runs a workshop for repair of agriculture equipment on one side of the flyover, says he didn’t open his shop that day. “I live in the nearby village Saide-ke-Hasham. That day, the shops were closed as it was raining. We didn’t expect any business either due to the PM’s rally (to be held after the PGI centre inauguration).”
Reports of a dharna stalling the PM came as a surprise, Matharu says, though he doesn’t entirely mind the attention. “Pehlan kadi flyover te dharna nahi lagda si. Pehli var lagya si. Hun sab Piareana hi Google karde ne (There was no dharna at this spot earlier. It was the first time. Now, everyone Googles Piareana).”
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The dharna was organised by the BKU (Krantikari) farmers’ union. Jatinder Singh, from another nearby village, Wazirpur, and a member of the BKU (Krantikari), says: “That day, a few of our members had come from Zira (about 40 km away). I was not at the protest site.” Singh says the union had given a call for protest at the district headquarters and were marching there. “But police didn’t allow them to move ahead, so they staged a dharna where they were stopped. The same thing happened at various other spots,” he adds, noting, “So far, as I know, no police action has been taken against anyone.”
Gurmeet Singh Mehma, another farmer leader, seconds Singh. “Farmers wanted to go to the District Commissioner’s office. A decision was taken that if we were stopped, we would hold a dharna at the same spot. Hence the dharna started on the flyover.”
Mehma says that in their year of protests against the farm laws, the flyover never figured. “We held pakka dharnas on Zira road, at the Reliance petrol pump, another outside the godown of a corporate house near Sappanwali village, and the third one on the Faridkot-Ferozepur road. During Bharat Bandh or Punjab Bandh calls, we blocked the road at the No. 7 octroi post near the Ferozepur cantonment area. But we never thought of this flyover.”
Piareana, a small village of about 2,500 people, just about 1,200-1,300 voters and medium and marginal farmers, is getting used to its 20 minutes of fame. “None from the village had either gone to the protest site or for the rally, but the village name is getting known,” says Balbir Singh, from Badhni Jaimal Singh village, adjoining Piareana.
A few elderly of nearby villages remember a time about five decades ago when Piareana had its biggest tryst with infamy. A fake currency bust led officials to the stunning discovery of a machine printing those in the village — remarkable enough to become a story passed down generations.
As accusations of a Khalistani plot are thrown about, Jatinder Singh remembers the cost the village paid for terrorism. “Before then, we had Mahajans and Pandits in a majority, but they gradually shifted out from here to cities or out of Punjab. Now there is a mixed Sikh-Hindu population,” says Jatinder, adding, “It is a quiet village.”
Shuminder Pal interjects: “Villagers are peace-loving, but women at times question politicians too for distributing liquor to voters. So though not rich, they are aware.”
And he doesn’t welcome what is being said regarding the flyover. “I wish no dharna is organised here again. Even on January 5, it wasn’t planned at the site. But when the dharna started, a chai-pakoda langar was organised by someone in no time, and everyone came to eat. A langar is for everyone,” Pal reasons.
Pappu Mistri, who runs a puncture shop near the flyover, says vehicles are again rushing down the flyover. More vehicles means he can hope for greater than his usual number of 15-20 clients a day. Life has almost returned to “normal” now, he says. Almost. “I keep hearing the name Piareana on television.”
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