Always ready to volunteer their services for the country, residents of this town, located at a walking distance from the Indo-Pak international border, have one grudge — this assembly constituency of poll-bound Punjab deserves more facilities. The residents recall how they had prepared themselves to volunteer just in case the country needed their services after tensions escalated between India and Pakistan following Indian Army’s surgical strike across LoC in Jammu & Kashmir last year.
“After the Army conducted the surgical strike, orders were issued for evacuation of villages within 10-km area along the border with Pakistan in Punjab. “However, despite several villages in Attari constituency being just 1 or 2 km from the border, people stayed put here. Everyone here decided that in case of war or any worst thing happening, we will move forward (towards Pakistan) along with our forces, but not retreat,” 61-year-old Surjit Singh told PTI.
Another resident, Harjinder Singh, a carpenter, said, “After the surgical strike, the residents here put up a brave front. Nobody left their homes. Everyone said we are the brave people of the Majha region of Punjab and if one has to die, let it be here and all said in one voice that they will move forward and not leave their homes.”
Perhaps the Attari residents draw inspiration from Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala, who was a general in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and famous for his last stand at the Anglo-Sikh battle of Sabraon. There is a memorial dedicated to him which is located right in the main bazaar area of Attari. Two Howitzer guns have been placed in the memorial ground and these were dedicated by former Indian Army chief, General Bikram Singh, on February 10, 2014 to commemorate the 168th martyrdom day of General Sham Singh Attariwala.
However, residents here lament that many villages in Attari constituency, which is next to the border with Pakistan; still continue to be in a bad shape. They claim there is hardly anything in the name of facilities including proper health and education facilities. Residents say that unsafe bridges over the defence drain create fear and four months back an accident involving a school bus killed seven students. Both Surjit Singh and another resident Jagtar Singh said Attari residents should get facilities it deserves.
“There is a small hospital here, but without any facility. Doctors are not available. We have to rush to Amritsar, which is about 25 km from here, for even small things. Sewerage problem also remains unresolved. There are not much employment avenues for the youth,” Jagtar said. He said border areas should be given good financial package so that entire belt gets developed and youth are gainfully employed.
Attari is a reserved constituency, having a voter strength of over 1,71,586, from where senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader and Punjab Minister Gulzar Singh Ranike (59) is seeking re-election and among 10 other candidates, he faces Congress’ Tarsem Singh D.C. (67), AAP’s Jaswinder Singh Jahangir (39), BSP’s Sukhwantjit Kaur (51) and CPI Gurdeep Singh (55).
Harjinder Singh, Sakatar Singh, who is an ‘arhitya’ (commission agent) and fruit seller Wasim, also claim that this constituency is reeling under the impact of demonetisation. “The situation here has still not improved. Residents still have to wait for a long time in queues to withdraw money. I have to make payment to farmers, but I am unable to pay them. This is causing hardship to farmers, but we are helpless,” said Sakatar Singh.
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Baba Jasbir Singh (60), a resident of Atalgarh village, located barely 1 km from the Indo-Pak Attari/Wagah border, talked about the problems faced by the farmers in cultivating their land situated across the barbed wire fence. “One member in a family is issued ID card and only he is allowed to go to take care of the land and the crops. There is fixed time from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. when one can go across the barbed wire fence. Suppose we return with trolley filled with crops or other stuff, it has to be emptied and got checked.
So, there are practical difficulties which we face in taking care of our own land,” Jasbir said. Notably, in 2012, Ranike had defeated Congress rival Tarsem Singh DC by 4,983 votes and in 2007 Rattan Singh of Congress by 19,083 votes. Ranike exuded confidence about his victory, saying people will vote for the SAD-BJP alliance, which has undertaken development, not just here, but across the state. “People know Congress is a sinking ship and it has nothing new to offer. AAP has no base here,” he said.
Tarsem Singh DC claimed people want to show the door to the Akalis, who have “looted” Punjab. He also talked about Congress’ commitment to weed out the drug menace. AAP’s Jahangir claimed people are desperately looking for a change this time and his party is on a strong footing. “People want to elect a clean and honest government this time,” he said.