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Drugs strain ties between Punjab alliance partners

The winter chill sweeping Punjab these days is also making the political relations between ruling alliance partners, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), frosty.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 30, 2014 16:39 IST

The winter chill sweeping Punjab these days is also making the political relations between ruling alliance partners, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), frosty. The growing threat from narcotics, and its political and social implications, has become the latest standoff point between both sides.

The BJP, which is the junior partner in the alliance government that has been running Punjab since 2007, has stepped up its pressure tactics on the drugs issue. First, Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated the BJP's tactical move by mentioning the drugs problem facing the nation and pointedly mentioned the rampant abuse of drugs in Punjab.

The Akali Dal hit back with chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the Akali Dal president, writing letters to the prime minister and the union home minister blaming the Border Security Force (BSF) for failing to curb the smuggling of heroin into Punjab through the Afghanistan-Pakistan route.

The Akali Dal, in a clear game of one-upmanship over the BJP, has decided to hold protests January 5 against the BSF in the state's border belt of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur districts. Sukhbir Badal, who as Punjab's home minister is supposed to ensure security of the state, will be leading the protests against the BSF which guards the 553-km long international border between India and Pakistan in Punjab.

The Akali Dal protests were timed just ahead of BJP national president Amit Shah's rally in Amritsar against drugs scheduled for January 12.

While the Akali Dal leadership wants to gain sympathy through its protests, it is clearly hiding the fact that Punjab's drugs problem is not from the heroin being smuggled into Punjab but from the state's own home-grown drugs industry.

The Akalis have conveniently forgotten that the Punjab Police last year busted an international racket of synthetic drugs worth Rs.6,000 crore ($945 million). None of these drugs, or medicines being misused by drug users, was coming from Pakistan. Did the BSF have anything to do with the synthetic drugs?

The posturing between the alliance partners has not been over the issue of drugs alone in recent weeks.

Last week, the state BJP president sought the resignation of Punjab's powerful Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia after the latter was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for his links with certain NRIs whose names figured in money laundering from the synthetic drugs racket.

The summons of the ED, which is under the union finance ministry of the BJP-led government at the centre, was seen by the Akalis as an attempt to corner the top Akali Dal leadership.

Majithia, the younger brother of union minister Harsimrat Badal and the person considered closest to Punjab's power deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal, was questioned by the ED for over four hours.

The Akali Dal recently took on the centre after a flip-flop on the issue of giving enhanced compensation to the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

The Akalis have also taken pot shots at the Modi government for not helping the state with a financial package and also over the recent mess in payment of paddy procurement and not enhancing the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy.

The posturing from both sides is a clear indicator that things are certainly not smooth politically. The BJP is certainly aiming big at the January 2017 assembly polls and it will only be a matter of time before a break-point comes in the "forever" relationship.

First Published: Dec 30, 2014 16:32 IST