Saturday, Jul 02, 2022

Punjab Polls 2022: Unkept ‘Drugs-Free Punjab’ Promises Return To Haunt Parties

Ahead of the 2017 Punjab assembly election, the ruling Congress party had promised in its manifesto to eradicate the drug menace within a month of coming to power

Representative photo: The drug menace has become a major issue in the Punjab election campaigning
Representative photo: The drug menace has become a major issue in the Punjab election campaigning

Ramandeep Kaur Gill, 36, got married twice in her life. Almost one year after her first marriage in 2005, she gave birth to a differently abled son who later died at the age of six. She blames her drug addict husband for her baby’s disability. She filed for a divorce and got legally separated from him. Eventually, she got remarried and her second husband also turned out to be a drug addict who died of drug overdose in 2017, when their son was nine months old and daughter was hardly three.

Gill lives with her parents in village Markhai Zira of Punjab’s Firozpur district. She runs a medical laboratory and a counselling centre for drug addicts. Describing the promises of all the political parties regarding a Punjab that is free of drug abuse as 'fake', she alleged that Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lack sincerity to redress the issue.

“Whether it is the BJP, SAD, Congress or AAP, all of them are blaming each other to grab power,” she told Outlook.

There are thousands of families across Punjab that have been left devastated due to the menace of drug abuse. Absolutely disillusioned with the political rants and promises regarding drugs-free Punjab, many don’t even find it meaningful to comment on the issue.

In the past ten days, the security forces have seized 33 kg of heroin and 4,707 kg of poppy husk ahead of the assembly poll. And the seizure has beaten records of the narcotics recovery in the run up to all the previous elections in Punjab, according to media reports.

The ruling Congress in its 2017 election manifesto, which was released by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had promised to seal the drug supply and its consumption and distribution within four weeks of coming to power. “Just like several other promises including regularisation of the employees, the Congress’ promise to eradicate drugs as well as drug mafia, sand mafia and transport mafia also has remained unfulfilled,” Ashutosh Kumar, who is head of the political science department at Panjab University, told Outlook. “Neither they could waive off the promised farm loans nor provided promised clean governance to Punjab.”

While giving momentum to Congress’ poll campaign, both Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in their rallies have repeatedly claimed that Captain Amarinder Singh was removed from the post of the chief minister as he had deviated from the party’s core agenda. Speaking about the change of guard, Priyanka has maintained that Amarinder Singh-led state government had to be replaced as the state government was being run by the BJP from New Delhi.

Such statements at the election rallies are being seen as the party’s cover up for the unfulfilled 2017 state assembly poll promises including drugs-free Punjab.

Ahead of Punjab assembly elections in 2017, a drugs-themed drama “Udta Punjab” had hit the theatres across the country, revealing the state’s vulnerability to the menace of drugs.

Talking about “Nawan Punjab” at a rally in Pathankot recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Congress of spreading the drug menace in Punjab. He promised to free Punjab from the sand and drug mafia. Notably, the BJP has been a coalition partner of SAD when they enjoyed power in Punjab for a decade between 2007 and 2017.

Addressing a rally at Dera Bassi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also targeted the Congress government over drugs trade in Punjab. He lambasted AAP for its claims to end the drug menace. Taking a dig at the party, Singh wondered, “how could they solve the problem when they have made liquor available at the door steps.”

Admitting to the presence of black sheep in the police department, former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, whose Punjab Lok Congress is an alliance partner of the BJP in this election, had said in 2018 that his Congress government was trying to weed them out.

In fact last week only, the Punjab police special task force claimed to have busted an international drug racket with the arrest of three people, including a former deputy superintendent of police and an assistant sub-inspector.

Referring to a study on drug menace in five north western states including Punjab, Ranjit Singh Ghuman—who works with the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development in Chandigarh, told Outlook that Punjab is a transit route for the supply of drugs due to India’s proximity with the golden crescent comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. 

“The issue of drugs in Punjab is multifaceted and complex. There is a big nexus of international smugglers with some involvement of local political leaders from all political parties, the local cops and elected local bodies representatives besides some top (government functionaries),” he said. “The international agencies are also wanting in their role to break the drugs supply chain. This is the reason that the menace is not getting controlled.”

The study sponsored by the Indian Council for Social Science Research in 2019 had considered only those drugs which have been banned under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. These drugs include heroin, opium and ‘chitta’.

Calling into question the role of political parties in checking the menace, Ghuman said, “When they distribute Nasha (intoxicants) to lure the voters during elections, their moral authority to check the drug menace gets eroded. All the political parties have been promising to eradicate the drug problem in this election also. But it is just a ‘Chunavi Jumla (election eve hollow promise)’.”

“We have analysed both the demand side and supply side of the drugs. The demand is generated through direct and indirect efforts. People become victims of drugs due to the enabling environment,” he said, adding, “a lot of money is involved in this game of trillion dollars.”  

Stressing that the state and the central government need to work in tandem to solve the problem, he further said, “They need to work in a missionary mode to break the supply chain. The factors behind the demand side also need to be redressed.”

Ahead of this election in December 2021, the SAD general secretary and legislator Bikram Singh Majithia, who is brother-in-law of SAD CM candidate Sukhbir Singh Badal, was booked in a drugs case. Reacting to the police action, Captain Amarinder Singh accused the Charanjit Singh Channi government of political revenge.

Incidentally, in October 2017, The Tribune, a Chandigarh based leading daily of the North India, had to carry an “unconditional apology” on its  front page, retracting all charges levelled against Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia that suggested his involvement in an allegedly illegal drug syndicate.

The newspaper’s apology followed the resignation of its editor-in-chief Harish Khare.

Targeted by the local drug mafia several times, Ramandeep Kaur Gill narrated how she paid a price for raising voice against the drugs mafia. “I have become accustomed to living with the threats now. On one occasion, thieves decamped with everything amounting to Rs 6.5 lakh from my lab. Thereafter, my bike got stolen,” she told Outlook.

“But we should keep raising our voice for larger public interest,” she stressed, concluding that “I am content. I have raised awareness against drugs in my area.”