This village on the Haryana border would be ordinary without the groundbreaking day of April 8, 1982, when the foundation of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal and a long-standing river-water dispute was laid here.
Dharam Yudh Morcha, two decades of militancy, and a longstanding legal and political battle with the neighbouring state have assured non-descript Kapoori a place in Punjab’s history. After the state has denotified the land acquired for the SYL project, Kapoori, once again in news, is eager to reclaim it.
Before thousands of residents from Haryana and Rajasthan, and a few from Punjab, then prime minister Indira Gandhi had performed the groundbreaking ceremony here. The same day, the Shiromani Akali Dal had started its agitation against the project. “The village was turned into fortress. Akali stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra, local legislator Jasdev Singh Sandhu, and the other SAD had gathered their men at the village gurdwara. Sarpanch Joginder Singh had refused to welcome the prime minister and attend her ceremony,” said Ram Gopal Sharma (66), a witness to history.
Indira’s last stand
A bold Indira delivered her last inspiring speech: “Every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it.” “Had the sarpanch welcomed the Indira, she would had given the village a major industry. The SYL never turned into reality but we would not have a big project either,” said Sharma, remembering that Congress minister Joginderpal Pandey was in charge of the function attended by Darbara Singh and Bhajan Lal, then CMs of Punjab and Haryana, respectively.
Akali supporter Jagjit Singh (61) said the sarpanch had taken the right decision. “He was supporter of MLA Jasdev Sandhu and Tohra, who were leading Dharam Yudh Morcha,” he said. “This canal never took shape but it changed the politics of Punjab,” said Sukhdev Singh (63), former sarpanch of Kapoori. He remembers the day Indira came here and Akali jathas from the entire Punjab gathered at Sarala Kalan to stop the canal construction. After about a year, extremist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale took command of the agitation, and the rest is the history of militancy in Punjab.
Obstacle or not?
The decision to de-notify land has raised hopes at Sarala Kalan and nearby villages. The SYL was an obstacle in collecting water from the Narwana Branch Canal (which runs parallel to the SYL), and now the hindrance would be gone,” said Sarala villager Shamsher Singh, whose father has got Rs 65,000 back for 1 acre acquired for the canal.
Some of the villagers, though, want the unfinished canal to remain for irrigation within Punjab.
“Don’t give this water to Haryana. Use it for own irrigation facilities to reduce dependence on declining groundwater table,” said Ghanaur farmer Gurjant Singh.