The controversy surrounding the release of Bollywood film “Udta Punjab” has come as godsend for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to target the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in the run-up to assembly elections slated early next year.
The AAP had entered the Punjab assembly poll arena with a bang in January this year when party leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal addressed a hugely successful rally on the occasion of Maghi Mela . However, over the past months, the party has been hunting hard to look for issues to corner the ruling SAD-BJP alliance in the state.
The AAP toyed with several issues but nothing could really be turned into a pan-Punjab subject of mass concern. The party spoke vociferously in favour of the farmers, highlighting agriculture distress leading to suicides. Its bid to launch itself back into the slot of the hot favourites through a mega protest march to the chief minister’s residence last month on the issue of an alleged Rs 12,000 crore food grain scam also didn’t pay off. Instead, its own wavering response on division of river waters with Haryana and the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dulled the initial dazzle it had created.
For the Akalis, “Udta Punjab” could not have come at a worse time than this. Out of all the issues that total up to the overwhelming anti-incumbency that the SAD-BJP combine is facing, rampant drug abuse is at the top. In the past three years, the shift in public perception with respect to drug abuse has gone entirely against the SAD. What was considered to be a matter of “personal choice” for the drug user and explained away as “bad luck” by the user’s family, has come to be a seen as a fault of the government, not just in terms of the police-peddler nexus, but also direct blame being shifted to politicians for their alleged facilitation of drug smugglers.
The AAP, aiming to emerge as a key challenger in the poll sweepstakes, has gone all out and hit the SAD where it hurts the most. Its leaders have even repeatedly accused state revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia of “promoting” narcotics. Majithia had reacted by slapping criminal defamation cases against AAP leaders, including Kejriwal, and party state in-charge Sanjay Singh.
While the AAP has been aggressively harping on the drug issue, the Punjab Congress led by Captain Amarinder Singh, has given a virtual clean chit to the government on the issue. It now suits the AAP if a film which focuses on the severity of the problem gets a national attention. If AAP leaders, two of who are actors/stand-up comedians themselves, are able to scale up the issue, riding on the strong voices emerging from Bollywood in support of the film, and revive the debate on drug abuse in Punjab, the issue has the potential to emerge as a key factor in the poll-bound state, much to the discomfort of the Akalis.