When Punjab is in election mode, the problem of intoxicants can never be far away. This time the drug issue has dominated the poll narrative like never before and has given the Congress and AAP enough ammunition to target the incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government. However, the unfortunate part is that the state, which goes to polls on April 30, has not witnessed any serious debate but only a no-holds-barred blame game over this menace that has debilitating effects on Punjab’s young human resource. Each political outfit is accusing the other of distributing drugs in rural Punjab for votes. But, it’s the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) that finds itself at the receiving end over allegations of patronising the drug mafia.
Ahead of the 2012 assembly polls, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had set off a furore by stating that 70% youth in the state are hooked to drugs. What he meant — based on a study done by the Guru Nanak Dev University — was that seven in 10 drug addicts were young people. The Akalis accused him of exaggerating the drug issue. The situation, however, is dire. A survey by the state’s directorate of social security in 2012 suggested that 67% of rural households had at least one drug addict in the family. It also revealed that most drug addicts belong to the 16 to 35 age group, indicating the vulnerability of young people. This reality is also not lost on the political class. That’s why waging a war on drugs and narcotic smugglers were an election promise of the SAD in the 2012 assembly elections. But, the bombshell came in January when the arrested wrestler-turned-druglord Jagdish Singh Bhola named Cabinet minister BS Majithia, who is the brother-in-law of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, as the kingpin of the drug racket flourishing in Punjab. This prompted the Congress to demand a CBI probe.
The drug menace has much deeper repercussion for Punjab, which finds itself at the crossroads of a diminishing returns of the green revolution and rising unemployment due to poor quality of educational infrastructure. There is also the fear that with the United States pullout from Afghanistan and with the comeback of opium crops in that country, there will be widespread smuggling of drugs from across the border as well as more organised efforts to spread the drug habit among the youth. The rampant abuse of intoxicants is exacting a heavy toll on the youth in Punjab and instead of exploiting the issue for electoral gains, political parties must devise ways to tackle this menace.