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Surgical strike aftermath: How Punjab is paying the price for BJP's UP push

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:45 IST

Amidst war hysteria and hyper-nationalist sentiments running on a pumped up high after the recent surgical strikes by India across the Line of Control (LoC), it looks like the BJP trying to gain political mileage in Uttar Pradesh at the cost of Punjab.

There are enough pointers in this direction in the light of a series of developments that have taken place over the last 10 days.

It needs to be kept in mind that the BJP's stakes in Punjab are pretty low where it is a partner with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The BJP-SAD combine is facing heavy anti-incumbency ahead of the forthcoming Assembly polls in the state.

The relation between the two are also often described as an alliance of compulsion since it is too late for the BJP to part ways with the Akalis and go alone despite a large section of its cadres and legislators wanting to do just that.

The party has a mere 23 seats, mainly in the urban areas with a sizable Hindu population, to contest. It has 12 MLAs in the outgoing assembly with a vote share of 7.15% in the state.

Contrary to this it has lots at stake in Uttar Pradesh where they are desperately trying to win the forthcoming polls. Their pitch for a repeat victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls hinges on this.

Core issues

The decision to evacuate more than 800 villages along the International Border (IB) by the state government, which claims to have done it at the behest of Rajnath Singh, boomeranged for the Akalis creating an internal war-like situation. The government has now been compelled to revert the orders on evacuations.

The decision was blown to smithereens by Congress President Captain Amarinder Singh who went right up to the border villages asking the farmers to stay put. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also caught the government's 'bluff' through its on-ground volunteers in these villages.

To begin with, Amarinder from day one has been saying that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been trying to deliberately create war hysteria with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh elections and SAD Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has been quietly toeing their line while ignoring the interests of the farmers of Punjab.

There and back again

Next, comes the reversal of the evacuation orders. It is being pointed out that these orders which the government is trying to play up to win the farmers back, who have undergone much agony over the last 10 days, actually mean nothing as the farmers at large never evacuated their houses and had stayed put.

On Friday, Punjab's Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal came out saying that the central government had revoked its earlier decision to evacuate the border villages of Punjab after a review of the situation along the entire border with Pakistan. The decision was taken in a meeting held at Jaisalmer which was presided over by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal informed the deputy commissioners of all concerned districts to take immediate steps to ensure a smooth return of the affected people back to their villages.

Sukhbir further said that he has requested the home minister to give Punjab the permission to raise five armed battalions that would act as a second line of defence behind the Border Security Force (BSF) manning the border.

He also disclosed that the government has already identified 75 points where checkpoints need to be placed.

This was followed by Rajnath's proposal to seal the Indo-Pak border by December 2018 that as been played up by the media as well as the BJP cadres.

All talk?

Amarinder has dismissed this proposal as `ridiculous and nonsensical'. He said,"Rajnath's statement is nothing more than sheer rhetoric since the Indo-Pak border here is already adequately sealed, with two-tier fencing and a flood-lit concrete areas between the two fences."

He went on to point out that the sweeping statement made by Rajnath, without taking into account the unique topographical and geographical realities of the border in different regions of the country, reflects his ignorance about matters of national security.

"Does he want to build concrete walls at the Punjab border?" asked Amarinder while adding that the need of the hour is not to build walls but to create bridges.

Even the Berlin Wall had to be demolished in the interest of peace, he pointed out, flaying the Modi government's regressive policies that seemed designed to make India retreat from its progressive path.

Border problems

Amarinder, who represents the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency, said such 'grandiose' statements by Rajnath are a clear indication that the Modi government is once again trying to fan border tensions which have just begun to simmer down.

He said the solution lies not in wasting money on experiments with impractical ways to fence off the neighbours, but to nurture closer relations with them.

He observed that the problem is not due to inadequate infrastructure at the border, where crores of rupees have already been spent by successive governments to strengthen it, but relates to certain areas that are topographically not suitable for fool-proof fencing, particularly along the LoC.

These problems are not going to be solved by "sealing" the border, Amarinder said while endorsing a stand that army officials have always maintained.

"In any case, what will happen to the farmers on both sides of the IB if it is sealed as the home minister has proposed?" he asked pointing that most of the farmers in Punjab's border villages own and tend to land on both sides.

"Rajnath's idea is atrocious not only from a practical but also from a humanitarian point of view," he added.

What AAP has to say

The AAP leadership has also been on the offensive over the manner in which evacuation was ordered in the villages and the subsequent politicking by the BJP.

Party in-charge for Punjab, Sanjay Singh, has particularly objected to the BJP president attacking Arvind Kejriwal during his media briefing in Delhi on Friday.

He said that AAP will not tolerate BJP questioning the patriotism of its leadership that too by a person who is himself been accused of ordering fake police encounters. He also said that the party will not sit quiet if the BJP politicises the surgical strikes.

AAP's state convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi aka Waraich has also attacked Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar for going from Goa to Uttar Pradesh to get honoured by his own party workers after the strikes.

"The BJP is even putting up banners and posters all over the country to take credit for the surgical strikes which are nothing but the sheer politicisation of the situation," added Waraich.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: Think surgical strikes mean an easy win for BJP in UP? Think again

First published: 8 October 2016, 4:50 IST