Gurdaspur: Border trade winds

In Amritsar & Gurdaspur, major parties in favour of reopening Attari-Wagah land route to give a fillip to local economy.
Gurdaspur: Border trade winds

AMRITSAR/GURDASPUR: Resumption of trade with Pakistan through the Attari-Wagah land route has emerged as a key issue for traders and industry in Amritsar, the high-profile parliamentary constituency on the Indo-Pak-border. They say that the cross-border trade will also benefit farmers, transporters and labourers. That’s also a major poll plank in Gurdaspur.

The volume of trade between India and Pakistan through the Attari land route was around Rs 5,000 crore per annum before the bilateral trade ties were suspended in 2019 following the Pulwama attack.

“The government must resume trade with Pakistan because in Amritsar there is no manufacturing industry. Pakistan was one of the largest markets for our farmers. If there was any shortage of any vegetable, it used to be imported also. Consumers as well as farmers both were happy,” says former chairman of CII Amritsar Zone council Rajdeep Uppal Educationist and social worker Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina, who is an advocate of closer Indo-Pak ties for economic growth of Amritsar says, “The city has the infrastructure to cater to more than the 40 million tourists.”

Farmers’ leader Ajmer Singh Heir says the Indo-Pak trade always benefited residents and farmers not only economically but also as a confidence-building measure for peace in the region. He says vegetables from Amritsar can reach Lahore in a few hours if the trade is allowed.

The BJP candidate in Amritsar Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s former Ambassador to the US and a seasoned diplomat, is banking on the Modi influence and the crucial urban voters. He says that Amritsar is an international city and needs to be brought to the world map for tourism, IT industry and foreign trade that will generate employment.

He is facing tough competition from Congress’ Gurjit Singh Aujla, the sitting MP in Lok Sabha who won the seat twice with heavy margins. Aujla is facing tough questioning from voters for not doing much for development of the holy city. He also has to cope with factionalism within Congress’ local leadership.

“I have been demanding reopening of the Attari border. I want to set up a horticulture university,’’ he says.

The ruling Aam Aadmi Party has fielded its cabinet Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal who is facing strong anti-incumbency against his government. He is counting on the popular schemes of AAP such as free power and health services.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), contesting for the first time independently after the break-up of the SAD-BJP alliance due to the farmers’ protest, has fielded former BJP cabinet minister Anil Joshi. He is a popular urban face and is relying on the party’s strong cadre in the rural areas.

In Gurdaspur, the BJP has fielded Dinesh Kumar Babbu, former three-time MLA and a popular party leader in his home constituency, though a little known face in rural areas. He is facing Congress’ former deputy CM Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, SAD (B)’s Daljit Singh Cheema and AAP’s sitting MLA Sherry Kalsi. The BJP also is facing tough times in rural areas as Sandhu and Babbu face farmer’s protests wherever they go out far campaigning.

The BJP’s Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu won from Amritsar twice in 2004, 2009 but later the BJP has lost successive three elections in Amritsar. Even after fielding heavy weights including late Arun Jaitley and present Union Minister Hardip Singh Puri in the past, the party has failed to make a mark with the voters.

Similarly former Bollywood heartthrob Vindo Khanna has successfully won from Gurdaspur in 1998, 2004 and 2009 and Sunny Deol won in 2017. It seems a do and die battle for the BJP in both constituencies but in the absence of the alliance with Akalis, the party’s poor organizational structure in rural areas, farmers’ protest and Sandhu’s outsider tag is making it tough for the party in the holy city of Amritsar.

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