Bypoll campaign hits last leg: Shahkot’s notorious ‘airport belt’ holds key to victory
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Bypoll campaign hits last leg: Shahkot’s notorious ‘airport belt’ holds key to victory

40 villages comprise area: Money, liquor will be deciding factors in area known for bootlegging, illegal sand mining.

punjab Updated: May 26, 2018 09:41 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Shahkot (Jalandhar)
bootlegging,illegal sand mining,Shahkot assembly segment
Liquor being manufactured at a shack on the banks of the Sutlej in Shahkot constituency. (HT Photo)

With the campaign in the Shahkot assembly segment reaching its last leg as only two days are left for the polls, the ruling Congress and opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) eying the ‘airport belt’ which is notorious for bootlegging and illegal sand mining.

The area comprising around 40 villages is situated on the banks of the Sutlej and has earned the sobriquet ‘airport belt’ because the people of the area are generally ‘high’ on country-made liquor.

“It’s funny but true. In local parlance, they say, ‘Eh daru peeke banda jahaaz (aeroplane) ban janda hai (A man becomes a plane after consuming this liquor),” said a former deputy superintendent of police (DSP) who has served in Shahkot.

As why police and the excise department fail to act against the illegal trade, a former Jalandhar SSP said, “When a raid is conducted, the geography of the area is that any outsider can be located easily from far. People involved in bootlegging flee towards the Sutlej and cross over to Ludhiana district on the other side.”

In the past one decade, many of the bootleggers have switched over to illegal sand mining.

How this area is a deciding factor?

When it comes to elections, people of the area vote keeping in mind who will provide shelter to their illegal trade.

In the past five terms, late Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Ajit Singh Kohar, whose death necessitated the bypoll, would get support from people of the area. “Kohar used to get full support in villages dominated by Jat Sikhs and often lost in the towns of Mehatpur, Malsian, Shahkot and Lohian,” said Satnam Singh, a SAD functionary from Mandeyala village in Lohian block.

This is why the Congress strategists have been focussing on the area and have deployed young ministers like Vijay Inder Singla and Bharat Bhushan Ashu there.

“I have 14 villages with me and in past polls Kohar won from 10. This time, we will win all 14. But we will win with the promise of development not anything else,” said Singla.

SAD has also put its leaders Prem Singh Chandumajra and Sikander Maluka to oversee poll-preparedness in the area.

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Money plays big role in area

Since the belt is dominated by Rai Sikhs and the Balmikis who are not financially strong, political experts say money plays a big role in the run-up to the poll here. “In last three days, political activities suddenly hit a crescendo in the area and money and liquor dominate the scene,” said a senior Congress leader.

First Published: May 26, 2018 09:41 IST