Jalandar: In the land of deras, voters seek development

Nowhere else in Punjab does religion play as crucial a role as in Jalandhar. The Doaba region, lying between the rivers Sutlej and Beas, is dominated by the dera culture which touches the lives of people in significant ways. These religious sects not only influence some key decisions their followers make but also their voting behaviour. No wonder, parties of all hues are making a beeline for the deras before the elections. Even the RSS is reaching out to the leaders of the small sects to enlist their support for Narendra Modi.

 Jalandar: In the land of deras, voters seek development

Image used for representational purposes only. Reuters.

The prominence of deras doesn’t quite reflect in the quality of life in the region though. There is not a single airport in the entire Doaba region. The airport project in Adampur assembly segment of the Jalandhar constituency has been pending for long. Ill-maintained, pot-holed roads, both in rural and city areas, are the hallmark of Jalandhar. Power cuts are frequent. Power shortage and lack of proper infrastructure have led to closure of industries; many have shifted to neighbouring state Himachal Pradesh, complain city residents as well as industrialists. The region has remained cut-off from major development projects for long.

The influence of religion and lack of development form the backdrop against which the Congress and the Shiromani Akal Dal lock horns in Jalandhar constituency. In this Congress stronghold, the SAD candidate Pawan Kumar Tinu is pitted against the former’s Santokh Singh Chaudhary. Though the BSP has good presence in this reserved constituency, political observers feel it is not in a position to win on its own. But it can harm the prospects of both the SAD and the Congress candidates. The party’s candidate, Sukhwinder Kotli, is its general secretary. The AAP has a candidate in Jyoti Mann, a teacher in a private school and first-time contestant, but he is largely invisible.

Barring three times in 1996, 1998 and 1989, the Congress has always won this seat, however, its prospects are dicey this time. Voters are unhappy with the state of civic amenities. Work on the city’s sewerage treatment is moving at a snail’s pace and files of the Urban Estate Phase 3 project have been closed. City dwellers are looking for a leader who can bring some solace to the neglected constituency.

People blame sitting MP from Jalandhar, Mohinder Singh Kaypee, for the sheer neglect of this once flourishing industrial town, famous for its sports goods manufacturing industry, specially cricket bats and balls. Anti-incumbency factor against Kapyee was so fierce that the Congress had to shift him to the neighbouring Hoshiarpur constituency.

Santokh Chaudhary’s elder brother Jagjit Chaudhary was a former Local Bodies Minister of Punjab. Their father Chaudhary Banta Singh had been Congress leader for long. The Chaudhary family had wanted the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat for Santokh Chaudhary’s son, Vikram Chaudhary who is the Punjab Youth Congress chief, but the party preferred Santokh Chaudhary for his experience and more importantly for his honesty and integrity and the fact that he is a non-controversial figure. Santokh’s brother Chaudhary Varinder Singh quit the Congress to join SAD and is now actively campaigning against him.

Santokh Singh says his priority will be to revive sports and leather industry. "I will work towards setting up of a dry port here as a lot of goods are exported. Punjab Institute of Medical Sciences should be freed from the private hands for its revival," he says.

Sitting MLA, Pawan Kumar Tinu, is the youth face of the Akalis and the Scheduled Caste people of the region. Tinu belongs to an ordinary family, but his leadership qualities have helped him rise in politics. He, however, is facing the wrath of people because of the poor condition of the roads and poor civic amenities. But he is unfazed. “I have a clear cut plan for the development of Jalandhar. The region immediately needs an airport, better industrial infrastructure, developing sports hub and employment schemes for the youth. Jalandhar has been neglected for long, it deserves faster growth and development," he says.

BSP’s Kotli has been projecting the Congress and the SAD as being two sides of the same coin. With the anti-incumbency factor working against both the Congress and the SAD, for different reasons, he may actually be the gainer. Hamstrung by lack of funds, the AAP’s campaign has been lackluster. But the candidate, Jyoti Mann, can bank on the Balmiki community support in the Dalit dominated constituency.

What could prove critical for all candidates is the support of the deras, particularly in a tight situation. That explains why all parties have been busy trying to get the support of the deras while attacking each other.

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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2014 17:46:24 IST