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Cong gives ?Patton Nagar? Bhindranwale aide

The party is fielding Harminder Singh Gill, a former associate of separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, reports Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2007 15:33 IST

Bhikiwind, 50 km from Amritsar, had a moniker during the 1971 India-Pakistan war-Patton Nagar. Patton Tanks from Pakistan had thrown a cordon around it. A decade later, Bhikiwind became a 'safe house' for Khalistani terrorists.

Memories haunt. Residents, who lost their loved ones to terrorists' bullets recall rockets landing in their courtyards, which are now cosy retreats, where families sip tea.

Meet Balraj Kaur. The terrorists told her to buy caskets for the entire family, but she was undaunted by their threats. She and her husband Ranjit were later honoured with Shaurya Chakra (bravery medals) by the President for standing up to terrorists.

After peace returned, Bhikiwind slipped back to oblivion like many other villages in Patti, an Assembly segment in Tarn Taran constituency. But old wounds are festering once again. A past long-cremated has suddenly returned to hound families scarred by terrorism.

The Congress has fielded Harminder Singh Gill, a former associate of separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Gill was arrested from the Golden Temple during Operation Bluestar in 1984. He was jailed for five years.

Bhikiwind is also the eye of a storm. The Congress dissidence in Tarn Taran is out in the open. Gill’s rival, Shiromani Akali Dal’s Pratap Singh Kairon, is using Congress 'rebels' to upstage Gill.

Miffed Congressmen are questioning Gill’s credentials as he is a rank outsider and have criticised the party brass for compromising 'national concerns' for political gains.

"For a party (Congress), which has lost two Prime Ministers (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi) and one chief minister (Beant Singh of Punjab) to terrorists, fielding a terorist is the lowest it can stoop to. I want to ask Sonia Gandhi what compelled her to nominate Gill," Peter told Hindustan Times. Gill, claimed Peter, faced sedition charges.

Gill’s problems are multi-pronged. The area is a Akali Dal bastion and he has two contenders: Congress dissidence and Prakash Singh Badal’s son-in-law Pratap Singh Kairon as a rival. Kairon is also the grandson of former Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon. Gill, in contrast, has a militant past.

The electorate, barring those affected by militancy, dismisses it as 'bad memory'. A sizeable chunk along the Dayalpura-Kachcha pacca-Manihiala Jaisingh-Patti region sees terrorism as a 'movement' for the Sikh cause. By this logic, Gill is in the clear.

Politically, Gill is the party’s best bet. His 'positives' include development work for the constituency without being a Legislative Assembly member, accessibility and mass appeal. He is also the chief minister’s 'blue eyed boy'. Kairon, owever, is sighted only during elections.

But the writing on the wall is not clear for it is a fight among equals.

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First Published: Feb 06, 2007 13:22 IST