Here Pakistan figures high in poll campaign and rhetoric

By Jaideep Sarin,

Amritsar : In Punjab’s Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency, which is seeing a high-pitched electoral battle between two stalwart leaders of the BJP and the Congress, Pakistan finds itself in the centre of political barbs.

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As the battle gets shriller politically, Congress candidate Amarinder Singh and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley are trading verbal volleys on ties with Pakistan and each party’s policies and attitudes towards the neighbour.

Since the boundary of the Amritsar constituency extends right up the international border with Pakistan, trade with the neighbouring country always remains an important issue as it affects Amritsar’s economy. Even though trade with Pakistan, carried out through the Attari-Wagah land border, 30 km from here, has increased in the last seven years, its scope remains limited to a few items.

Jaitley and Amarinder have been telling the electorate that trade from the Amritsar area with Pakistan is an important point on their future agenda for the constituency.

“If the NDA (BJP-led National Democratic Alliance) comes to power, trade with Pakistan would be opened and it would boost the economy of Punjab,” Jaitley tells people during his rallies and interaction with business leaders.

“The infrastructure for opening up border trade has been established. A last push is required to be given to the town for the expansion of the official border trade between India and Pakistan. Tourism and trade, including international trade, have a singular ability to revive and strengthen the economy of Amritsar,” Jaitley wrote recently in his blog.

Amarinder told a gathering of Rotarians here that “confidence building measures are needed with Pakistan for the success of Amritsar as an important trade centre for trade with not only that country but the entire Central and West Asia”.

While Amarinder, who has been chief minister in Punjab (2002-07), is advocating opening up land border trade with Pakistan, he is unwilling to spare Jaitley on this issue related to Pakistan.

“Jaitely should seek his prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s permission before promising to open trade routes between Amritsar and Lahore,” Amarinder said recently, indicating Modi’s dealing with Pakistan was “purely jingoistic and confrontationist”.

Referring to Jaitely’s “frequent wish-list” of developing Amritsar as an important trading centre, Amarinder said: “Will that be possible with Modi already having spelt out his confrontationist agenda with India’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan?”

That is not all between the two leaders and their bitter verbal duels.

When Amarinder recently took the “outsider” jibe at Jaitley after the latter bought a house for himself in Amritsar, Jaitley hit back suggesting to Amarinder that he (Amarinder) should not buy house across the border. The obvious reference was to Amarinder’s closeness to a woman friend from Pakistan.

Amarinder replied: “If I intend to buy a house across the border, I will definitely ask you too, since I know you have lots and lots of money with your wealth multiplying so rapidly and so fast, which you may be keen to invest anywhere across the world, be it in Amritsar or Lahore as long as it fetches you good returns.”

The fireworks over Pakistan-related issues, it seems, will continue till the election finale here April 30.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])