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Irate truckers vow to offload Capt in Punjab

May 17, 2019 05:18 AM


Irate truckers vow to offload Capt in Punjab
Rajeev Deshpande & Sidhartha TNN

Dhuri (Sangrur):

There is more than an hour to go for a meeting of the local truckers union, but already a dozen or so members are gathered at a clearing in this dusty kasba. At a distance the group seems sedentary enough, providing little inkling to volatile sentiments running just below the calm surface.

Unlike most election-time interviews, it doesn’t take long for the truckers, deeply tanned hardy Jat Sikhs, to open up about the target of their collective ire. CM Amarinder Singh, they said, ruined their livelihoods by allowing “outside” trucks to enter their areas of operation. Hire charges plunged, slashing earnings they enjoyed transporting foodgrain to and from Punjab’s numerous mandis.

The decision to “break” trucker unions, hailed by officials as a show of political will, is playing out differently at election time with vengeful truckers waiting to settle scores with Congress. “There are around 90,000 truckers, all members, and we will teach captain a lesson,” says Balwinder Singh.

For the Sangrur seat, the truckers seem to be backing incumbent AAP MP Bhagwant Mann, refusing to consider other options. Given their determination, the comedian-turned-politician might well thank the truckers if he makes it through a three cornered contest, the only AAP candidate in contention in a state where the party won four seats in 2014.

The truckers aren’t on the verge of privation. They are land owners and farmers, asserting “hum to Jat hain” when asked if they have land holdings. The crop has been good and MSP payments have reached bank accounts. But with farm earnings often just about meeting ends once debts are paid off, the income from trucking is useful in generating a much needed surplus.

In Chandigarh, Food Corporation of India officials pointed to the savings gained by disbanding cartels that held transport of foodgrain to ransom. But for Jagtap Singh, lower rates meant costs incurred for paying drivers and maintainance were biting more and truckers were idling. “Outside trucks are plying, rates have fallen by a third.”

Some distance from Dhuri, along the highway that runs through Moga, another bunch of truckers are equally agitated about the impact of unions being tamed. Most seem ready to back the Akalis despite the lingering controversy over the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015 which has gone down badly for the party.

There is praise for PM Modi in an election where local issues seem to be weighing more. “People have got gas cylinder and he will deliver what he promised,” said Nishatra Singh. But it is “captain” that get his ire. “manji thok do (make him shut up),” they intone as the conversation ends.

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