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War remains elusive, political war breaks out in Punjab over border evacuation
The apprehension of an India-Pakistan war may have receded but a full-fledged political war has broken out in Punjab over the central and state governments getting nearly 1,000 villages within 10-km of the international border evacuated following last week's surgical strikes by the Indian Army across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Opposition parties and leaders in Punjab are blaming the Union Home Ministry and the state's Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Punjab for unnecessarily building up war hysteria and getting the villages evacuated.
The ruling alliance, led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, is being blamed for doing so to take advantage in assembly elections to be held in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh early next year.
Nearly 400,000 people in the border areas have been asked to evacuate.
"There has been no movement bt the Pakistani Army. These days everything can be seen through satellites and technology. Even if a jeep moves, we can see that. The centre and the Punjab government have unnecessarily ordered the evacuation. Thousands of people are being harassed," Punjab Congress president and former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said.
Amarinder Singh, a former Indian Army officer who saw action in the 1965 war against Pakistan, being the ADC to Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh, a decorated officer who led the swordarm Western Command and turned the tables against the advancing Pakistan Army, alleged that the BJP and Akali Dal built up war hysteria after the surgical strikes to take political advantage in the forthcoming assembly polls.
But Badal has a different take on the issue.
"Political leaders should shun politics in this peculiar situation. It is unfortunate that several political leaders were continuously politicking at this critical juncture when war clouds are hovering over the country. At this critical juncture, leaders must avoid politics for safeguarding the interests of the country in general and Punjab in particular," Badal said.
"The SAD-BJP government doesn't believe in doing politics over the issues concerning unity and integrity of the country. Even my visits to border villages was solely aimed at sharing the grief of their residents and instilling a sense of confidence amongst them. These visits were not even remotely concerned with politics. I am visiting border villages to be amongst the brave people of this region who are ever ready to make any sacrifice for their country but unfortunately my fellow friends do not see anything beyond politics," Badal pointed out.
Badal and the district authorities, at some places, have faced the ire of residents of border villages over the evacuation orders.
But leaders of the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the newly-formed Apna Punjab Party, are not ready to buy Badal's argument.
Several Congress leaders and legislators from border areas, representing various assembly segments from Ferozepur to Gurdaspur, have lashed out at the SAD-BJP alliance over "forcible evacuation of the residents from border villages against their will".
"The army continues to remain in peace positions on either side of the border. Captain Amarinder is speaking from his knowledge and experience, having participated in war in 1965 in the same areas," Congress legislators Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Aruna Chaudhry, Sukh Sarkaria and Parminder Singh Pinky said in a joint statement.
"While we reiterate our support for strong measures against Pakistan, including surgical strikes, for instigating and abetting terror activities in India, there was no need for evacuation of the border residents," the Congress leaders said, adding that there was no evacuation during the 1965, 1971, and 1999 Kargil Wars or even during Operation Parakaram (2001-02) -- when the Indian Army mobilised in the wake of the attack on parliament.
The Congress leaders pointed out that Badal had to face the public wrath in the border villages as the residents did not want to move out.
"Better ask your leader as how he was treated by the angry villagers in several villages as they do not want to move out. The BJP is trying to raise the war hysteria for Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections," the statement said.
Reacting to Amarinder Singh, Punjab Education Minister and senior Akali leader Daljit Singh Cheema said his remarks were "aimed at creating mistrust between the Indian Army and the people of the country".
Seeking an "apology" from Amarinder Singh, Cheema said that such things should not come from a former army officer when the forces were engaged in dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.