Paucity of poppy husk and the plight of those hooked to it — usually referred to as amlis in Punjab — have become a hot poll issue across the rural pockets of this Lok Sabha seat.
As all kinds of vote banks have started attracting the attention of the main rivals in the fray, Shiromani Akali Dal candidate Paramjit Kaur Gulshan, sitting MP, and Congress candidate Joginder Singh Panjgrain, sitting MLA, face the fury of not only the amlis but also their families, especially women.
And the candidates are keeping their fingers crossed. A major chunk of male population, including youth, is in the grip of drugs in the Malwa belt of this border state where agriculture is people’s mainstay.
With the police getting tough on trafficking of bhukki (poppy husk) from neighbouring Rajasthan, the liquor business is booming. And for the ban on bhukki the residents openly blame “liquor business interests of the Akalis”. But worse is the fact that drug peddlers are equally active in supplying what rural people call “chitta powder” or white powder — ostensibly synthetic drugs — to target poppy husk addicts. “Poppy husk users are demanding opening of poppy husk shops on the lines of liquor vends. It’s a matter of concern,” Gulshan, the SAD nominee, told Hindustan Times.
The Congress nominee told a gathering during canvassing that he was being approached even by rural women on scarcity of poppy husk. “They are rightly questioning the rationale behind curbing the supply of bhukki and the government is not acting against the suppliers of lifethreatening “chitta powder”.
“The liquor business in this region is controlled by the Akalis. They were suffering losses as majority of people in this area consume bhukki and not liquor. This clampdown on bhukki has increased the sale of liquor,” Sohan Singh, a villager, says.
Endorsing his views, Bhola Singh of Gur usar village asks, “Why do (Bikram Singh) Majithia and Sukhbir Badal not ban the sale of liquor too? Who is supplying white powder in our villages? After having a dose of bhukki, farmers used to work diligently in fields and now they quarrel with family members after having liquor.”
During a day-long whirlwind visit of Faridkot constituency, “why ban on bhukki and why liquor and deadly drugs are freely available” was the chorus in village after village where the residents openly sought lifting curbs on supply of poppy husk. Earlier, 1kg poppy husk, they say, was available for Rs 800, which is now available for Rs 4,000 per kg on the black market.
According to a cross-section of society, the amlis are now soft targets of liquor mafia and drug peddlers. Both Gulshan and Panjgrain candidly accept that rural women are a worried lot as men are either taking liquor or consuming equally fatal white powder.
“Unavailability of poppy husk is a major issue among people. Akalis have cap-tured every business,” says Panjgrain in a corner meeting. “The Akalis have controlled every business, including the supply of intoxicants and drugs. The day is not far when they may even charge money for cremating bodies,” quips Bhola, another villager.
Thus sums up Khem Singh of Behbal village his trauma as well as that of other bhukki- eaters, “Manje te paye ne nashedi. Naash kar ditta inhan nein sadda. Bhukki mildi ni, te sharab de thekke har gali vitch khol ditte nein ( Drug addicts lie on the cots. They have destroyed us. Poppy husk is not available and they have opened liquor vends in every street).”