Punjab Elections: How Batala Became Symbolic of the State's Industrial Decay

Batala used to be a major industrial hub in Punjab till the 1980s. Now only a small fraction of units remain.

Punjab Election
4 min read
Hindi Female
Edited By :Saundarya Talwar

"Batala used to have several factories until the 1980s but they shut down and didn't come up again," says Rajinder 'Bittu', a resident of Batala in Punjab's Gurdaspur district.

Bittu owns a small unit manufacturing valves, nozzles, taps, and handpumps near Batala.

"Punjab has become a very difficult place for small industries. Even now my unit is functioning at only 20 percent of its capacity," Bittu says.

Once a major hub for foundries, Batala has now become symbolic of the industrial decay in Punjab.

According to a report in The Tribune, the number of units in Batala have come down from over 2,000 in the 1980s to about 400 now.



Batala's decline has coincided with the Chinese goods flooding the market, a trend that has harmed industries across India.

But there there are certain specific conditions that have harmed Batala beyond this: First the violent conflict of the 1980s and then governmental apathy.

"Yes the militancy period caused a lot of harm. But even after normalcy returned, successive governments didn't do much to revive industry in the area. So many companies shifted their factories to Himachal Pradesh and Haryana."
Rajinder 'Bittu', who owns a small-scale unit in Batala

"Other states gave incentives, Punjab didn't. That's why we lost out. On top of that there are frequent protests here," adds Bittu's son Prince, who helps him with the business.

The data available publicly is a bit uneven in this regard but it does reveal a pattern to the post-conflict industrial growth in Punjab: Districts like Ludhiana and those in the vicinity of Chandigarh such as Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar, Patiala and Fatehgarh Sahib have revived better than other districts like Gurdaspur.

However, Gurdaspur has still fared comparatively better than districts sharing a border with Himachal such as Hoshiarpur and Rupnagar.

"There are no job opportunities here any more due to the closure of industries. Earlier people used to come here for work, now people from here are forced to go elsewhere," says Prince.



One reason that locals give for government apathy is that Batala has voted for the losing party in a number of crucial Assembly elections. For instance, in the 1992 election held during President's Rule and won by the Congress, Batala chose the BJP. The Akalis had boycotted the election.

Then in 2012, Batala voted for Ashwani Sekhri of the Congress when SAD-BJP won the state. The situation reversed in 2017 with SAD winning the seat and Congress winning Punjab.

"We are ourselves to blame for choosing the losing side so many times," laments Baldev Raj, a resident.

Batala is presently witnessing a four-cornered fight between SAD's Sucha Singh Chhotepur, Ashwani Sekhri of the Congress, Sherry Kalsi from AAP and Fatehjung Singh Bajwa from the BJP.

The seat has witnessed a fair deal of political musical chairs in the recent past.

  • Last time, it was won by Lakhbir Singh Lodhinangal of the SAD but he was shifted to Fatehgarh Churian to accommodate Sucha Singh Chhotepur who used to be AAP's Punjab convenor but fell out with the party just before the 2017 Assembly polls. He joined SAD in 2021.

  • Then BJP candidate Fatehjung Bajwa was the sitting Congress MLA from neigbouring Qadian but switched parties in the end of 2021. His elder brother Partap Singh Bajwa is now contesting from Qadian on a Congress ticket.

  • The complication doesn't end there. Ashwani Sekhri, the Congress candidate, was expected to move to the Akali Dal in June 2021 but backed out at the last moment. 'Last moment' is no exaggeration as he was 'hospitalised' just hours before the event in which he was supposed to join SAD. Eventually, he remained in the Congress and has now been 'rewarded' for his loyalty.


But Sekhri isn't the Congress' most popular face in the city. Locals say it isn't Sekhri but Fatehgarh Churian MLA and senior minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa who has done the most work in the area.

"Sekhri stays in Amritsar and is hardly available. It is Tript Rajinder Bajwa who has worked the most here, sometimes using his own funds."
Baldev Raj, resident of Batala

Baldev Raj adds that even SAD's Lodhinangal has worked in the area.

"Lodhinangal could have won again. But I'm not sure about Chhotepur. Many of the traders in the city don't like him," he says.

So going by what locals are saying the two leaders who are said to have worked in the area - Congress' Tript Rajinder Bajwa and SAD's Lodhinangal - are both fighting it out in the neigbouring seat of Fatehgarh Churian, while their parties have nominated slightly less popular leaders in Batala.

"Congress and SAD haven't chosen good candidates. If Tript or his son contested, they would have won. Now Sherry Kalsi's chances have improved," says Rajinder 'Bittu'.

The candidate selection has only added to the narrative around the neglect of Batala.

"It's a cycle. We vote for the losing party, so parties have stopped caring about the seat and they have now sent us mediocre candidates," Baldev Raj says.

So far none of the parties have put forward a concrete plan for reviving industry in Batala.

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Topics:  Aam Aadmi Party   Akali Dal   Unemployment 

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