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Drugs issue galvanises oppostion parties into action, take on beleaguered Punjab govt

Both the AAP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have quickly moved in to take the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government head on over its failure to curb the drug menace, mounting political heat.

punjab Updated: Jul 05, 2018 22:12 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Drugs,Punjab govt,AAP
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh(HT File)

The growing public outrage over a rash of deaths due to suspected drug overdose in different parts of Punjab have galvanised the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and other parties into action.

Both the AAP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have quickly moved in to take the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government head on over its failure to curb the drug menace, mounting political heat. The state government’s order prescribing annual drug test of all government employees, including policemen, is providing fuel to them on this politically-sensitive issue.

The two parties lost no time in seeking dope test of all lawmakers, including chief minister and ministers, with former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira and his predecessor HS Phoolka taking the lead.

AAP MLA from Sunam Aman Arora was the first to voluntarily undertake the drug test. “If Amarinder had asked me, I would have told him that he should be the first to undergo this test. Once the CM gets it done, all ministers, MLAs, bureaucrats, cops and other staff would have automatically opted for tests. The message would have gone to everyone, loud and clear,” Arora said, after giving his samples for the test, daring Capt to follow suit.

The Congress government, alarmed by the burst of adverse publicity and potential of this hot-button issue to irreparably damage its image ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, has made scattershot announcements, including strong recommendation to the Centre for first-time drug smugglers and peddlers, to try and climb out of the trough.

However, public anger appears to be growing due to reports of more and more deaths from different parts of the state. The government’s faux pas of replacing the under-fire Moga senior superintendent of police (SSP) with another controversial cop and the contradictory statements of its ministers on the severity of the problem, coupled with rumblings of discontent within the cabinet over the manner in which the police have handled the vexing problem, have only made things worse.

The AAP, the central theme of whose narrative against the Akalis before the state polls was primarily drugs when it burst on to the political scene in Punjab five years ago, has gone after the state government. The issue has also provided an opportunity to the party, which has been hit by constant bickering, desertions and electoral setbacks in the last one year, to regroup. The state unit was on the verge of a split after its national convener Arvind Kejriwal had tendered an unqualified apology to Akali leader Bikram Majithia for levelling drug allegations against him in the run-up to the state assembly elections.

Now, most of its top leaders, including Khaira, Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and state unit co-president Balbir Singh, had made a rare appearance together when they met the chief minister to express their serious concern over drug menace and demand a CBI probe into drug-related deaths, besides a special session of the state assembly.

“Our MLAs are visiting villages in their constituency to meet families that have lost their children to drugs. They are also creating awareness against the menace. The CM agreed with our suggestions and promised to take action. If he does not act in two weeks, we will take the matter to the people and force the government to take decisive steps,” said Balbir.

The SAD, which suffered a serious perception crisis due to drug allegations some of its leaders during the 10-year rule, has also targeted the Amarinder government after promising to keep politics out of the fight against drug menace and offering to fight it together. The niceties were set aside within 72 hours for realpolitik. And, the party leaders, including Union food processing industries minister Harsimrat Badal, have hit out at the Congress bigwigs in a no-holds-barred attack.

First Published: Jul 05, 2018 22:07 IST