Battleground 2024: Of four parties and Amritpal in Punjab’s Khadoor Sahib



Nearly an hour’s drive from Amritsar, Jhallur Khera is a one-of-its-kind village. While the houses in the village are beaming with 


state-of-the-art infrastructure, with some even having solar panels, the stone-and-sand roads are difficult to navigate. An octogenarian villager says the road is in this condition as it’s yet to be completed and a roller needs to work on it. With most of the people echoing the old man’s sentiment, a young man, 21-22, says: “It’s like this so that other parties can’t enter the village.”

 


Just at the entrance of Jhallur Khera village, there’s a large poster on a gurudwara that’s visible from afar. The poster says: “This village wholeheartedly supports Amritpal in the elections. Other parties should refrain from seeking votes here.”

 


Punjab is seeing one of the tightest electoral battles ever. For the first time in decades, four major parties — the Aam Aadmi Party, Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, and Shiromani Akali Dal — have thrown their hat into the ring, and that too without any alliance. The Bahujan Samaj Party is also in contention. With psephologists yet to determine how fruitful this move by parties may be, one of the 13 seats in the state has an interesting contest. Called the Tarn Taran Lok Sabha constituency till 2009, the Khadoor Sahib seat’s fifth candidate is Amritpal Singh.

 


Jallupur Khera, the native village of Singh, seems to be on a war footing. No flags or posters of parties are visible. A sense of organised chaos prevailed in the village as the head of Waris Punjab De, Amritpal Singh, was finally given a poll symbol (mic) ahead of the elections on June 1. The youth in the village ran around with newly made posters of Singh, while the elderly congregated in the home of Amritpal’s uncle Sukhchain Singh. The home also serves as Amritpal’s election office, with his uncle taking charge of his campaign as his parents are out campaigning in another district.


The office, with a tent set up for more accommodation, can host up to 10 people at a time. A number of supporters from far-off districts gathered at the office after the allotment of the symbol to discuss the poll strategy for the next 11 days. Even though the village is buzzing with activity around polls, most of the villagers choose to maintain silence over the incidents in 2023, after Singh stormed into a police station with weapons to demand the release of his jailed aide.

 


“Yes, the officers were here. You know what happened. The whole country knows. It was a difficult time for everyone involved, especially this village. We had police patrol the village even after a month of his arrest,” a villager said.

 


“A number of these people help us during elections. They do it out of love and the cause Amritpal propagates. The whole talk of Khalistan is false. The idea that he (Amritpal) propagates is mostly of a drug-free Punjab, employment, Bandi Sikhs and fair treatment to the state. Even the poll campaign is far from mentioning anything about Khalistan,” says Sukhchain Singh.

 

Another worker in the office says: “A number of parties approached him. But Amritpal isn’t greedy for power or a seat. He only wants the best for the people of the state.” He adds: “His comparison with (Jarnail Singh) Bhindranwale is over the top. Appearances cannot be the only tool for comparison. Go around and ask what Amritpal has done for the village and nearby areas.”


A number of villagers said Amritpal had done a commendable job by setting up a de-addiction centre in the village. Some, though, are apprehensive about it because admission in a rehab gets them the tag of hafimi (addict). “Despite this, this is the first time someone has done something about it,” a 23-year-old villager, putting up Amritpal’s posters, says.

 


The rampant use of drugs in Punjab is well recorded. The aforementioned youth explains why most people, despite knowing about the menace, decide to get into the business of selling and using drugs. “The system has a hierarchy. The top bosses of a gang always guarantee the foot soldiers that they would provide for their families when and if anything happens. And they do keep their promises. More than that, a daily-wage job might just get you Rs 400 a day. If you make a name for yourself, an average day could get you up to Rs 1,000. If the government doesn’t provide jobs and social security, the youth would turn towards drugs.”

 


Another aspect of Amritpal’s poll campaign has been to speak about Bandi Sikhs, Sikh political prisoners who remain in jail despite their sentences being over. “People misinterpret this as a Khalistani cause. I agree that some people had committed mistakes but they were punished as well. Keeping them in jail beyond their sentences is also heavy-handedness. Amritpal might have said certain things about Khalistan and we don’t agree with that. Nobody is above the law. But we do back him up on this,” a shopkeeper near the Khadoor Sahib gurudwara says.

 

Many parties, especially the SAD, believe that Amritpal contesting would cut their votes. But shop owners near the gurudwara in Tarn Taran, once a hotbed of separatist activity, remain unperturbed. “The Akalis had a lot of time to help us with the drug menace. Instead, it increased during their tenure. There was a crisis of leadership in the state and that’s why AAP came to power in 2022. But we have realised that only Amritpal can change the situation. He has helped us without being in power. Imagine what he’ll do if he is in power?” says a shop owner outside Tarn Taran Sahib.

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First Published: May 20 2024 | 11:58 PM IST



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