Much before Pahlaj Nihalani stepped in to butcher the Anurag Kashyap-produced Udta Punjab with 89 cuts, including all references to Punjab, its trailer and edgy songs had created an expectant buzz in the state. The heady Chitta ve, a song about the white powder that has destroyed thousands of Punjabi households, is on every youngster’s playlist. More than that, there was a sense of authenticity about the way director Abhishek Chaubey has approached his job of depicting the hopelessness in the heroin-addled countryside, backed with meticulous research. But new-age cinema’s allegiance to realism has attracted an unexpected enemy—politics.
To say drugs and politics go hand in hand in Punjab is an understatement. It dominates the social and political discourse and with assembly elections due in a few months, the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine is showing signs of nervousness with the increasingly sharp attacks over its alleged role in the spread of drugs during its nine-year reign. For the better part of the last two years, the Akalis have spent their energies in shielding the powerful state revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia—brother-in-law of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal—from an Enforcement Directorate probe into his alleged involvement in the drug business. Three arrested drug smugglers had in their statements before the ED claimed Majithia provided the cover and shelter for drug cartels to operate in the state. The smugglers, Jagdish Bhola, Maninderjit Aulakh (a one-time Akali worker from Amritsar) and Jagjit Chahal, who ran a chemical factory that manufactured the popular party drug ‘ice’, told the ED that Majithia allowed them to use his official vehicle and gunmen for drug smuggling. Despite this, Majithia’s name was neither recorded, nor was he made an accused. Worse, Niranjan Singh, an upright officer in the ED’s Jalandhar office who dared to summon Majithia for questioning, was suddenly transferred out on the ground that investigation in the case was almost over. The doughty officer’s transfer was stayed only after he moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court and last August informed the court that the investigation is far from over.