Gurdaspur, which has seen a movie-star MP in Vinod Khanna for four terms and again has actor Sunny Deol (BJP) pitted against the Congress’s Sunil Jakhar, is not exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm despite the high-profile contest on the cards.
Unemployment, pitiable condition of roads, lack of adequate health facilities, and industry, are some of the issues that find an echo in this border constituency instead of nationalist jingoism.
At Makora Pattan, the village where Ravi and Ujh rivers join in a confluence and nine villages are physically cut off from rest of the country during the monsoon months each year, facing Pakistan border on the other side of the river, an agitated villager said, “Look at the condition of this bridge. No politician has ever done anything for us. Send us to Pakistan if you cannot give us a bridge.”
The villages are joined with the mainland by a pontoon bridge, which can be described as ramshackle at best. Due to the strategic location of the river-crossing, there is an Army post nearby — no one is allowed to cross the river unless identified first. This Lassiyan enclave, as it is known in the Army, is a territory that lies in adverse possession — that is, the territory that lies across the Ravi next to Pakistan border.
For two months each year, even this tenuous connection with the rest of the country is severed and the villagers are at the mercy of a couple of boats to ferry them across the river for their daily needs and requirements.
Naval Kishore, a local resident said the villages across the river include Lassiyan, Chebe, Bharyal, Kajle, Kukkar, Mammian Chak, Chumbio and Toor. Kishore pointed out the remains of a previous pontoon bridge which was washed away.
“If we cannot even be given a concrete bridge, then what do we do with these elections? People say Vinod Khanna (late BJP MP) was the ‘pullan da raja’ (king of bridges) of Gurdaspur because he built bridges. But you look at this yourself,” said Kishore, kicking a loose wooden log on the bridge in anger.
Just as other villagers began gathering to vent their anger, the Congress candidate and sitting MP, Sunil Jakhar, arrived at the spot with Aruna Chaudhary, the local MLA and Punjab’s Transport minister.
“Jakhar-saab kujh karo. Vekho saada haal. Bridge di haalat vekho. Je nayi kujh ho sakda te saanu Pakistan bhej dao (Do something, Mr Jakhar. Look at our condition. See the condition of the bridge. If nothing can be done, then send us to Pakistan),” one villager told the Congress leader.
Jakhar pacified the crowd, saying that Rs 80 crore has been sanctioned for the bridge, and work would have started by now but for the election model code of conduct.
The Gurdaspur belt has some of the highest concentration of ex-servicemen in Punjab and has been a fertile recruitment ground since the British era. But even actor Sunny Deol’s visit — and his dialogue delivery — does not seem to have left retired Subedar Darshan Singh much enthused. Non-committal about political developments in his constituency, he was more worried about the availability of LPG cylinders — he was negotiating the price of one cylinder and was busy loading it on his motorcycle.
“I vote, but I do not keep a tab on these politicians. We Armymen are a different type – we mind our own business and do not get excited over such developments,” said Singh, who retired 10 years ago from the Sikh Regiment.
Ranjit Singh, from Kathiyali village in the constituency, said there will be enthusiasm for Deol among the youth but he is unsure of its effect on voting. “These are different times. People want accountability; they want the MP to be available locally. Social media has changed the election scenario. Only promises will not work any longer. In the next 10 years it will get even tougher for politicians to win elections the old way,” he said.
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