'Why only us?': Evacuated Punjab farmers ask SAD-BJP
In the wake of India's surgical strikes where the Army crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to smash terror launch pads, villages in Punjab within 10 km of the International Border (IB) have been asked to evacuate.
But there is one question on everyone's mind: why have evacuations only been ordered in Punjab when the country also shares long tracts of border with Pakistan in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir?
Many are questioning whether this decision was taken in with the forthcoming assembly polls in mind.
The farmer dilemma
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine government in the state is drawing a lot of flak not only from opposition parties, including the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), but also from farmers in the border villages who have been asked to evacuate at a time when crops are ripe for harvest.
If the tension escalates, the farms would have to be covered with landmines and any chance of harvesting the paddy crop that will ripen in the next fortnight would be lost forever. Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has, however, assured that the agriculturalists would be allowed to harvest their produce.
A large number of farmers are adamant about staying back in their villages to harvest their crop and to take care of the bovine and other animals that they own. They say that they cannot afford to bear the economic hardships that might result in the event of their losing their crop as they feel that even if the government decides to compensate them, the compensation amount would not take care of the needs of their families.
In the border villages of Amritsar district, the farmers are complaining of being left in the lurch. They say that contrary to the tall claims being made by he government in the newspapers about providing assistance to the farmers being evacuated, the truth is far from what is being stated. The farmers prefer to drop off their family members along with whatever major belongings they can gather with relatives.
"We are coming back to the village daily to attend to the needs of the cattle and also in the hope that we might retrieve our paddy crop. Some of us are even thinking of harvesting the paddy prematurely. There are many who have let their cattle loose," said a farmer from Dhanoakalan village located right on the border in Amritsar district.
"The farmers are complaining about the lack of conveyance for shifting their families from the villages. I visited some of the border villages yesterday and found that no help is reaching them in terms of medical kits and nor are there proper arrangements to provide them food," said Jaswinder Singh Jahangir, AAP's zonal in-charge at Amritsar who is involved in providing help to the farmers being evacuated from the border villages.
Is there more to the evacuations?
The party functionaries claim that its helpline is flooded with calls from the farmers in distress. "We are getting a call every five minutes. Farmers are asking till when they would have to remain outside their homes, will they be able to harvest their crop, how will they be compensated if not etc. Many of them are complaining about lack of co-ordination from the government functionaries, a lack of medical kits etc. Most are keeping a wait and watch approach," said Eklavya, who is attending to the calls at AAP helpline.
Party leaders HS Phoolka and Bhagwant Mann claim there is a situation of terror with people being forced to migrate leaving behind their livestock. They have asked why only Punjabis are being forced to migrate when Gujarat and Rajasthan too share the IB with Pakistan.
Reiterating this, senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar said, "Either the Punjab government has some special intelligence output or there is something that they do not want to share. The village next to mine is in Rajasthan where there is no alert or evacuation being carried out. Rajasthan has double the length of border with Pakistan as compared to Punjab. The two evacuee camps set up at Abohar were empty till last evening."
He said that the farmers are very concerned about their crop. While those in Fazilka have paddy to take care of, the farmers of Abohar are concerned about their kinnow and cotton crops. Jakhar pointed that there is more to the evacuation of the farmers than mere security concerns.
Badal's tour of the border villages
On Saturday, the chief minister toured the border villages in Pathankot district and assured them that despite the ongoing tension, the farmers would be allowed to harvest their produce at every cost.
Saying that the crops are as dear to the farmers as their children, Badal disclosed that he has taken up this issue with the union home minister Rajnath Singh, who immediately directed the Border Security Force (BSF) to allow the farmers of border region to harvest the crop. Likewise, he said, the government of India has also allowed the farmers who have their land across the fence to reap their crop.
He claimed that he along with top brass of the state government is regularly monitoring the arrangements in relief camps to facilitate the people.
Saying that the state government has evacuated the population from the border regions following an advisory of the central government, Badal underlined that his government fully shares the grief of people in this hour of crisis and no stone would be left unturned to facilitate them.
"There is no need to panic as state government is committed for service of the brave hearts of border region," he said.
He has defended the evacuation saying that in such situations enemy could make any move and could not be trusted. Badal added that as border villages of Punjab are densely populated as compared to other states like Rajasthan, it was necessary to evacuate the people for ensuring their safety.