In the run-up to the Punjab assembly elections, the sports fraternity seems to be divided over how serious is the drug menace in state.
If the current crop is glorifying the government over youth and sports, and downplaying the drugs issue, former sporting greats who are already in politics, or will be testing the waters in the elections, are cornering the SAD-BJP government on this and other issues concerning the youth, in particular.
Since the time of release of the movie ‘Udta Punjab’ in June, the issue of drugs has taken centre stage and is being highlighted by all opposition parties, while the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime has been trying to play it down.
To make up for the loss of the face, the Parkash Singh Badal government has taken help of top sportspersons employed with Punjab Police. Former hockey captains Rajpal Singh and Gagan Ajit Singh, drag-flicker Jugraj Singh, Arjuna awardee wrestler Palwinder Cheema, Olympian shooter Avneet Sidhu and Commonwealth Games medallist discus-thrower Harwant Kaur have been featured in professionally-made videos by the government projecting its achievements on the youth and sports front.
The videos are running in multiplexes, highlighting sports infrastructure, how the government is helping the youth achieve excellence in sports, and questioning the very existence of the drug menace.
Other sporting greats, who are contesting the elections or seeking to, are also highlighting the drug issue in their political rallies. “I wouldn’t blame the sportspersons who are being featured in the advertisements made by the government and glorifying them, as they all are government employees and have limitations,” says former Indian hockey captain Pargat Singh, who was director for sports before quitting his job to enter the political arena.
“They are left with no other choice than to toe the government line,” said Pargat, who recently quit the SAD and along with former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu formed a political front ‘Awaaz-e-Punjab’.
“Everybody knows the real issues concerning Punjab, especially our youth. No one can deny the drug menace. It is the result of total administrative and social failure,” adds Pargat.
Triple Olympian wrestler Kartar Singh, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate from Tarn Taran, says, “Drugs are one of the biggest problems and it will be an issue in the elections.”
Former Indian women captain Rajbir Kaur and Moscow Olympics hockey gold medallist Surinder Sodhi are among tickets contenders from the AAP.
On their presence in the government videos, Rajpal, deputy superintendent of police (DSP), says, “We are talking about the youth and growing sporting culture in the state. I can give you the figures of hockey. In the last five-six years, the state has contributed the maximum number of players in the Indian team. Even in the Rio Olympics, six members in the men’s team were from the state.”