Tarn Taran buries old ghosts: progress, not panth, is the poll plank

FP

There is something new about this election in Tarn Taran. For the first time in its electoral history, a registered political party has put up a Hindu candidate in this constituency that lies at Amritsar's edge. Here, Dharambir Agnihotri of the Congress takes on the official Akali candidate as well as the Akali rebel.

During the dark times of terrorism in Punjab, Tarn Taran was called the capital of Khalistan. Some of the most dreaded terrorists belonged to this belt. In electoral terms, Tarn Taran has defied the ritual oscillation between the Congress and SAD that is largely the Punjab story. It has always had an Akali MLA, except in 1977 and then again in 1992, when the election was boycotted by the SAD and the Congress's Dilbagh Singh was elected unopposed.

The Congress claims credit for giving the ticket to Agnihotri. "The message from the Congress is that we are a non-communal party," says Surinder Singh Shahi, chairperson of the Congress election committee of Tarn Taran district.

But stop to listen to the aam aadmi in Tarn Taran, and it is easy to ignore the newness of Agnihotri's candidature, or its self-conscious departure from the past. Quite simply, on the Tarn Taran street, there is little or no emphasis on the religion of the Congress candidate.

The fight is close, everyone agrees. In the last assembly election, it is pointed out, Agnihotri gave a tough fight in an adjoining constituency to Akali stalwart Ranjit Singh Brahmpura. After delimitation, many of the villages of that constituency have moved into Tarn Taran.

In the run-up to voting on January 30, the talk is about "development". The phenomenon of rising aspirations has not left Tarn Taran untouched. "Yes, some things have happened in the name of development," says Jaspal Singh Randhawa, "but no government has done us any favour. Everything must move with the times. We are, after all, in the computer age."

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