There is a growing distrust against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in the villages close to India-Pakistan international border near Attari. The situation is bad enough for most of them to openly declare that they will be voting against the SAD in the upcoming Assembly elections on February 4.
“The ruling party did not work for zamidars and the Jat community at all. We have not been able to sell our crops for two to three years now. Also, they have not provided us with any support like grant or waiving off loans,” said Balvinder Singh, an elderly resident of Modhe village who claims to have been a staunch supporter of SAD in the past.
There are others in these villages who harbour a similar grouse. In the border villages, including Attari, many claimed the competition was now between the Congress and first-time entrant AAP. However, many also believe that AAP doesn’t have much of a chance as it delayed announcing a candidate. “The AAP candidate only got 25-30 days to actively campaign while both the Congress and SAD candidates are known faces. Also, the TV channels do not give them enough coverage in comparison to others,” said Gajan Singh who runs a restaurant on Attari road.
There are two other factors which have led to public anger against the ruling party in the region – cross-border smuggling of drugs and the decision to vacate border villages after the surgical strikes across the LoC. Ranjit Singh of Neshta village claimed almost all landowners from his village were going to vote against the Akalis. “The problem of drug abuse has escalated over the past five years or so and has made our new generation useless,” he said.
Another resident Satnam Singh, however, asserted that the smuggling of gold and opium has been going on across the border for long and it was the advent of new drugs like ‘smack’ and ‘chitta’ which has worsened the situation. Some also alleged that the evacuation drive after surgical strikes was a mere sham as there was no military presence and people from only a few villages actually moved to other places. “The government probably siphoned off the money provided by PM Modi (centre) to carry out the evacuation,” said Balvinder Singh of Modhe.
In September 2016, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had asked Punjab government to evacuate people from villages located upto 10 km from international borders as a precautionary measure. However, the opposition parties accused Central government of trying to create a false perception of threat keeping the UP polls in mind.
On the other hand, elders of Raja Tal believe the SAD has done a lot for the development of the state, an opinion which stands in contrast to what the younger residents of the village have to say.
“Akalis have done a lot for us. They provided wheat at Rs 1-2 per kg and gave out pensions starting from Rs 200 and then raising it upto Rs 500. During the evaculation, they set up tents for people and sent food and other supplies. We think it was needed for our security because anything could happen. Yes, there were a lot of problems as we had to move but what would happen to our kids if a war broke out?”
The village elders also noted that Badal’s had a clean image but it was the ministers under them who involved themselves in dubious acts.