Men in their 60s, looking much older than their age, are digging a dry pond at Malikpur Khyala village in this district for more than a week. Unaware of the model code of conduct for the elections, Baldev Singh, 67, continues to slog for payment that will sustain his habit of poppy husk.
However, he’ll get the money only after he has the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) job card, which he is promised in hand before the polling day on April 30. “Yes, we are fed up,” he replied, when asked about the menace of drugs in these parts, later clarifying: “Fed up that we don’t have poppy husk.”
Most men and women of his village, who work with him on the pond, also do not have the job card, due since the scheme opened years ago. All from the Scheduled Castes, they are deprived of even the old-age pension (Rs 250) for more than three months now.
Unskilled labour is the only option for some 200 Dalit families of Malikpur Khyala. Septuagenarian Sadhu Singh has three sons, all illiterate but eligible to vote.
“Haanji, dove aa ke chale gaye (yes, both (Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Manpreet Singh Badal of the Congress) have come and gone). Ikko jehe hi ne saare (they all are the same),” Sadhu Singh makes observation about the candidates.
“Hor, cha paani (tea or water)?” the villagers, even though penniless, never forget to ask. A few kilometers away at Narinderpura village, a de-notified community of “drug traffickers” is jobless these days “because of the elections”. The youngsters, however, are confident that “the supply” will arrive on the election eve.
‘Voting in vain’
At Kot Fattan on way to Mansa from Bathinda, the majority of the poor villagers support Dera Sacha Sauda of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and will vote as the sect leader directs.
“Vote ta paa deange, par haal taa ohi rehnge (we will vote but out plight will remain the same,” said Rani, whose husband earns Rs 50 a day when he has labour assignment on the Bathinda-Mansa highway.
Here too, the MGNREGS cards are invisible and “useless” as well.
Cancer Express still runs
The Bikaner Express, late-night train that leaves Bathinda thrice a week, is still full of cancer patients, headed to the hospital in Rajasthan. Two special coaches are for the poor patients travelling on concession. Ferozepur, Bathinda and Faridkot are the three Lok Sabha constituencies where cancer deaths are a big issue.
Maur village near Kotkapura in Faridkot constituency reported 10 cancer deaths in one year, while Bhuttiwala in Mukstar recorded 50 in 10 years (five every year).
In Bathinda, the much-acclaimed private cancer hospital and the state’s cancer relief plan are no help to the poor patients. Wh ile SAD candidate Harsimrat Kaur Badal swears by the success of the scheme, the Congress campaigners pooh-pooh say it had failed to reach the villagers.
“The industrial waste polluting the Sutlej and Beas rivers is the root cause of cancer,” said Sunil Jakhar of the Congress who contests the Ferozepur seat.