A fortnight ago I made the familiar journey home to Punjab after a near-decade away. Having heard so much about immense progress in the towns and cities, I anticipated seeing a vastly different place than the one I remembered. A number of questions filled my head: how significant were those changes? Did they manifest a more positive outlook amongst the people of Punjab? Or are the glowing social media posts and pictures masking the real Punjab that I had last seen in 2008?
I travelled to Punjab less than a month after the result of the Punjab State elections had been announced. Punjab State Governments have yo-yo’d under Indian occupation, reverting between differing political players and parties, but the early years of the 21st century brought an abrupt halt to this with back-to-back Akali-led State Governments. The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) though was decimated in these most recent elections and now under a Captain Amrinder Singh-led Congress Party, Punjab is once again under that horrible cloud called ‘Hope’, epitomised by bustling political postures and endless promise, with little to show for it.
I stepped out of the vastly-improved airport at Delhi and began the familiar route through historic cities and towns that I only ever seem to pass through on my way to Phagwara. On the clogged roads, street vendors clamoured around vehicles at every stop selling plastic toys, coconut portions and windscreen visors; not so different here then. Similarly, the Pehalwan Dhaba where we generally stop to eat outside Delhi had seen little change (not that it needs it) but these signs were ominous that the progress in Punjab I have heard about is being overstated.