A busy road bisects the battlefields of 1965 India-Pakistan war where a pitched tank battle was fought. It is a sleepy village scene now with a tractor plying on one side of the road next to a concrete bunker and on the other side lies the grave of Company Quarter Master Abdul Hameed, awarded Param Vir Chakra for shooting up Pakistani Patton tanks in these very fields.
A group of villagers sitting in the shade of trees in the Abdul Hameed Memorial Complex burst out laughing when asked about the nationalist agenda of the elections and the effect of Balakot airstrikes on voters here.
Battle of Asal Uttar is a legend in Indian military history now and the area around was known as the graveyard of Patton tanks.
“What has (prime Minister Narendra) Modi done for us border residents? When he came to this complex in 2015 to pay homage to Abdul Hameed, we were not even told that the PM was coming. We only realised he was here when he was leaving, waiving his hands,” says Gurpartap Singh, 30, a resident of nearby Cheema village.
The villagers here rue the fact that there are no basic health and civic facilities offered to them despite the fact that this area suffered due to wars and later during the years of terrorism. “Kehnde Modi aaya Punjab te kehnda main ethey kee davaan. Enna kol the sab kuch hai, pakke ghar ne (I have heard that Modi came to Punjab and asked what should he give the people of the state. They have everything, they have proper houses),” Gurpartap adds sacrcastically
Umrao Singh of Jhuggian village says that the border residents will fight with the Army shoulder to shoulder when the time comes. “Par hun purani gall nayi rayi. Navi technology aa gayi hai. Hun missilan Delhi, Karachi, Lahore diggangiyan. Border te goley nayi deggne (Now it is not like the old days. New technology has come in. Now missiles will land in Delhi, Karachi, Lahore. No shells will land in border villages),” he says as other villagers join him in laughter
A reason for the nonchalance could be that the area saw heavy fighting in the Indo-Pak wars, especially in 1965 and living cheek to jowl with Pakistan does not scare the villagers.
As the massive roadshow of the local Congress candidate passes through with nearly a hundred vehicles in it, the villagers say there is widespread disenchantment with the local Congress MLA, Sukhpal Singh Bhullar, for not taking adequate care of the constituency. Yet the villagers say that they would be voting for Congress candidate for Lok Sabha, Jasbir Singh Dimpa.
“Dimpa is leading in this area followed by Bibi Khalra and then Jagir Kaur. Akalis do not stand any chance in our area,” says Swaran Singh, an ex-serviceman and the local head of the Guardians of Governance scheme of Congress government.
The villagers say the sitting MP of the constituency, Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, a former SAD member who has now floated SAD (Taksali), never visited the border areas after being elected. “The youth do not know who Bibi Khalra is. It is only the older generation that knows about her husband Jaswant Singh Khalra. As for Jagir Kaur, she has not been seen much around and in any case she is not from here,” says Gurpartap.
Away from the discussions, the Congress and PDA candidate candidates took out roadshows through the constituency as the campaign draws to a close.
Dimpa refuses to accept that Bibi Khalra is the main candidate opposing him. “Our main opponent are the Akalis. They have considerable presence and we will break that. Bibi Khalra will not get a lead even in her own village of Khalra”.
Khalra’s roadshow was no less impressive with several dozen vehicles joining it and passing through the length and breadth of the constituency.
Delivering a speech in one of the villages, Khalra focusses on the “excesses” by Punjab Police officers in the years of miltancy hoping for a resonance in this Panthic constituency. Contrary to the perception of the pro-Congress villagers, a large majority of those in her roadshow was Sikh youth.
Other than these candidates, there is a considerable support for state local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu in the area with villagers questioning why he was not utilised for campaigning in Punjab.
“(Chief Minister) Capt Amarinder Singh did not let him come and give speeches here. He is a big hit here. However, we make do with listening to his speeches across the country on phone,” says Umrao Singh.
“Haneri ban jaanda speech vich. Banda kamm karan wala hai. Kartarpur the kamm onne hee keeta. Loki onnu pasand karde. CM banuga Punjab da (He is like a storm when delivering speech. He is a man who does some work. He is the one who got Kartarpur corridor deal done. People like him. He will become the CM of Punjab),” says another villager.