Drugs, Elections And Dhoka: Punjab In A Nutshell

Posted by Shyna Kalra in Politics
February 8, 2017

Kikli kaleeer di, gup Sukhbir di, chitta mere bhai da, border ton mangai da, dasso kinnna chahida, ghar-ghar-pahuncha e da

– Bhagwant Maan, Election Rally, 2017

Kikli – one of Punjab’s folk songs, sung by women, has been implicated in the battle of thrones for Punjab Assembly poll 2017.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s most celebrated campaigner, comedian-turned-politician, Bhagwant Maan, has sung kikkli to shame his opponents and ruling party Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

Some lines from his now infamous kikkli, which Maan mockingly sang as an affront to Union Minister and daughter-in-law of chief minister Prakash Singh Badal, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, can be roughly translated as –

“Sukhbir (Badal, deputy CM, SAD president) is a liar and Chitta (a synthetic drug) belongs to my (Kaur’s) brother – Bikram Singh Majithia, Punjab Cabinet Minister. Just tell me how much you want, we import it from across the border and deliver it to your doorstep.”

This is not the first time that the Badal family has been scrutinized for their connections with drug ‘business’ going on in Punjab.

The Ire of Punjab

Punjabis do hold the Badal reign responsible for devastation of Punjab. Bikram Singh Majithia, for instance, was named by a drug kingpin Jagdish Singh Bhola in a Rs 6,000 crore international synthetic drug case, in 2013.

And there are hundreds of allegations against the Badals that the other parties are milking to their advantage for this election campaign.

The issue is bigger than the obvious anti-incumbency for SAD, thanks to their ten-year-long reign. Here, the issue is of drug abuse.

It has been a problem in Punjab for a while, but it is the first time that politicians have taken the drug menace beyond assurances and condolences. Sukhbir Singh Badal, in past elections, refused to accept that drug abuse is a grave problem in Punjab.

Junior Badal, recently, said that AAP and Congress are trying to ‘defame’ Punjab by calling its youth as addicts.

Drug addicts in Punjab were regarded as ‘misled boys’, who are in reality nothing but victims of a multi-million dollar international smuggling racket, to say least.

Only after Prime Minister, Narendra Modi addressed substance abuse, in his radio address Mann ki Baat (Dec 2014), did the issue gain political attention.

Campaign Issue

Assembly polls 2017 bought the issue of drug abuse into centre stage. The campaign opened the forum for discussion, but also made it a political pawn. 

Now, it is feared that drug abuse, just like farmer suicides, will become just another political issue – which will re-emerge every election season for politicians to fight over and then go back to being a lost cause.

But Punjab, cannot afford it. Because it is just not common people who are facing the abuse but even the politicians who promise to fight against the menace are also tainted in the same paint.

For better or worse

While drug abuse has been almost synonymous with the Badal government, the other parties are no different.

Bhagwant Maan, the ‘crusader’ in the fight against drugs (read Akalis) is also ‘known’ to be an alcoholic.

A former AAP-MP, Dharamvira Gandhi, had earlier said that the party is aware about Maan’s drinking habits.

There had been reports of Mann being thrown out of religious functions for being drunk. Mann has also allegedly been ‘smelling of alcohol’ while in Parliament. Videos of him falling off stages in rallies, allegedly under  the influence, have also done rounds on the Internet.

The politician on the other had accepted that “he drinks 2-3 times a week” and not “2-3 times a day” as alleged by his opponents, referring to the allegations as his “enemies’ conspiracy” to defame him.

Congress President, Rahul Gandhi, while in a rally in Punjab,  asked Punjabi youth to “break the chains” and speak-up against the drug abuse. And raise voice against the current government under whose reign the drug mafia had, according to him, flourished and Punjab deteriorated.

Both AAP and Congress have called the fight against Akalis, a fight against drugs and very conveniently portrayed that the problem of drug abuse will go away along with the change of government, but reality is not that rosy.

The Not-so Golden Crescent

Punjab lies within the golden crescent (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan). The deadly opium trade route still passes through India and reaches Beijing, regardless of the party in power.

The most abused drug, heroin, enters the country via the golden crescent, from across the porous border. Punjab not only serves as an entry point for heroin, but also as a rich market.

According to an Indian Express report, at least 25 addicts are booked in Punjab every day. Punjab has maximum volume of drugs seized, across the country.

According to government figures, 2,30,000 people in Punjab are drug users.

Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (2012), said that there are 836 drug users per 10,00,000 people in Punjab. The national average is 250 per ten thousand.

Layers of the problem

Very little has been done about the security of untamed borders, including the river beds and farming lands.

Border security force (BSF) has time and again notified government about the ‘courier’ service, which has run in families living along border areas for generations. These courier services, transport drugs and earn money with every packet transferred, which is more than what they could have earned from domestic jobs available.

Against the claims of unemployment, lack of awareness seems to be the root cause.

The Punjab opioid dependence survey found that 89 per cent of druggies in Punjab were educated and 83 per cent were employed.

However, the government continued to disguise sports, employment and skill development as de-addiction medicines.

On the infrastructure front too, the state’s prospects look dismal. Out of 80 per cent of victims who have tried quitting drugs, only 35 per cent could get help, says the survey.

De-addiction centers are no less than a nightmare and bounce-back rates (patient getting back to drugs post treatment) are as high as 50 per cent.

Out of 80 organizations involved in de-addiction, about 35 reported to having the facilities for providing in-patient treatment, states the government data.

Regardless to say, such intricacies had hardly any mentions from any party.

While anti-abuse, anti-drugs chants ring all over Punjab throughout the election season, handing out liquor and drugs were still reportedly practiced on the Election Day.

Ironically, the patients, addicted to the poison were offered another dose of it served with a promise to bring them out of the same.