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Punjab Elections 2017: Loan waiver promises evoke little confidence

“Na ta Congress ne kisaana da karza maaf karna, te na Akali sarkar ne. Ae ta jhutthe khwah ne. (Neither Congress nor Akali will waive off farmer loans. These are false dreams),” says Karnail Singh, a farmer from Rajataal village in Amritsar, barely a km from the Indo-Pak border.

Singh, says he owes a loan of Rs 4 lakh, while both his sons have pending loans of Rs 5 lakh each from the banks. “Mera karza alag, mere bachheyan da alag”, he says. Workers from Congress and jhaadhu-wali party, as AAP is popularly known, have visited villages distributing loan-waiver forms, which the farmers filled up and submitted.

Facing challenges of life near the fence, residents of these border villages have been facing a tumultuous time since decades due to tension across the border and bleak development has only caused indifference to promises made by parties. They were compelled to stay put in gurdwaras and community centres when Punjab government ordered evacuation after surgical strikes last year.

“I have been watching this for decades. I have supported Congress for 35 years and Akali Dal for last 20 years, they just make promises. Each party will rule for five years and will not give anything. It’s only when two months are left for next elections, that they fulfill promises,” says resident Bijender Singh,70 from Rajataal as farmers sitting with him nod silently.

Hundreds of farmers who own several acres of land on the other side of the fence continue to bear the brunt of searing tension between the two countries. Apart from several restrictions, farmers are subjected to constant security checks by Border Security Forces (BSF) suspecting drug smuggling.

It was only two months before elections, that SAD-led Punjab government fulfilled their long pending demand and raised compensation from Rs 2,500 to Rs 10,000 per acre for land across the border.

As parties slug it out to win the people’s mandate, each one has announced a slew of promises, but remains silent on making any major announcements for the border villages. Congress and AAP’s promise to waive off farmer loans have failed to strike a chord.

As one moves from Attari towards Taran Taran along the border, row of kutcha (mud) houses belonging to marginal farmers can be spotted in some villages painting a picture of neglect. With a number of youth hooked to drugs and unemployment a major issue, residents highlight that they want development at par with other villages in the mainland.

“It has been four months since residents received their pension of Rs 500 per month. The high school in the village has only two teachers. How will our children study? Even if they study, there are no jobs,” says Paramjit Singh, from Chabal Kalan village with palpable discontentment in his voice.

Pointing towards the row of symmetrical houses in the periphery of Rajataal village, another resident Gurdial Singh, 70 says, “Indira saanu ghar de gyi. Inna ne kuch nai karna. (Indira Gandhi had built houses for people during her time. No other party did that after her). If Akali comes to power, only their henchmen get benefits and others remain deprived.”

AAP has been trying hard to gain ground in these villages. When asked, one of the farmers, Karaj Singh from Burj village says, “Unna de haath ch ki aa? Kuch palle nai. Ki devange. (They (AAP) have no power. What will they do?). If AAP comes to power, we will not even get subsidies or free power.”