Cornered by alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the illicit drug trade in Punjab, deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal targeted BJP-ruled states for the menace, at a dharna-cum- ‘awareness rally’ near the Pakistan border here on Monday. Reiterating that Pakistan and Afghanistan use Punjab as a transit point for international rackets, Sukhbir shifted the responsibility of curbing the problem to the BJP-led Union government, and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make it a part of India-Pak talks.
Sukhbir, addressing the gathering around 1km from the international border, claimed that Punjab was being “defamed” as part of a “well-designed conspiracy”. He had to later address similar rallies in Ferozepur and Fazilka, but could not travel due to inclement weather.
After a multi-crore seizure, the drug menace had shot into prominence in last year’s Lok Sabha polls, in which SAD-BJP fared below expectations. Even the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) exploited the issue to win all its four seats in Punjab. The BJP has since been blaming the SAD for it. Quizzing of certain SAD leaders, including state revenue minister and Sukhbir’s brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia, has further pushed SAD on the back foot.
In his speech on Monday, Sukhbir termed the anti-drug operation as a “fight of Punjab and Punjabis”. Armed with data, he said Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had earned `100 crore and `119 crore, respectively, from opium and poppy cultivation last year. “Nobody talks about these states. Punjab is being targeted because we’ve worked aggressively against smugglers. How can there be two sets of laws in a nation? There is a need for the PM to ban cultivation of opium and poppy.” He said drugs were “easily available” in places such as Gurgaon (Haryana) and Goa, “known for their rave parties”.
Apart from making the drug issue a part of the talks with Pakistan, the PM must ensure special fund allocation for fighting drugs and upgrading the surveillance along border, according to Sukhbir.
Skirting Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’, targeting Gandhis
Even though Modi had in his radio talk ‘Mann ki Baat’ recently expressed concern over drug abuse in Punjab, Sukhbir chose to target the Congress’ Gandhi family over their statements. “Punjab is being defamed as part of a conspiracy. (Congress vice-president) Rahul Gandhi started this when he visited Punjab and said that 70% of people here are drug addicts. The hatred of the Gandhi family towards Punjab is not new; but we will not tolerate this at all. First, during terrorism, Punjabis were termed as terrorists, and now as addicts.” He also slammed state Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa for “false propaganda” against the SAD.
Later, when asked why ally BJP had kept away from the rally, Sukhbir said, “This was the dharna of the SAD. BJP has its own programme on January 22.”
He skirted a question on Modi’s statements on the Punjab’s drug problem: “It was not like that! I will meet the PM again and request him to allocate special funds and enhance border surveillance.”
State revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who was recently quizzed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a drug-related case, also addressed the rally and lambasted the Congress.
He added, “This dharna is not against the BSF (Border Security Force) or the army. It is just to show the nation that Punjab is fighting against drugs.”
Khadoor Sahib MP Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Rattan Singh Ajnala, Nirmal Singh Kahlon, Sucha Singh Langah, Bibi Jagir Kaur, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, Gulzar Singh Ranike, Upinderjit Kaur and Sewa Singh Sekhwan were among the leaders who spoke on the occasion.
Majithia challenges Bajwa to blood test
Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, recently quizzed by the ED in a drug-related case, said, “The entire conspiracy was hatched by Congress and its state chief Partap Singh Bajwa to defame the SAD.” Underlining that alleged kingpin Jagdish Singh Bhola had been arrested by the Punjab police, “not by any central agency”, he also challenged Bajwa to undergo a blood test along with him to see who used drugs.