The truth about Punjab is blowing in the wind

Presidential honour : President Pranab Mukherjee presents the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy 2014-15 to Punjabi University, Patiala, in at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi
Presidential honour : President Pranab Mukherjee presents the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy 2014-15 to Punjabi University, Patiala, in at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi

The much-maligned people of Punjab may well be heading towards their hour of cathartic reckoning — and I am not even referring to the elections due in February next year. The issue that has brought the state and its people, especially its youth, horrific disrepute relates to drugs and the level to which they are — or are not — addicted to it.

And the man who has dared to force the moment to a final showdown is ironically the man who has been on the receiving end of reckless vilification on the drugs issue: Bikram Singh Majithia, the state’s young and towering revenue minister and brother-in-law of the Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

A magisterial court in Amritsar is hearing a defamation suit on the drugs issue filed by Majithia against the Aam Aadmi Party’s supremo and master acrobat, Arvind Kejriwal. At the core of the case is the very theme that forms the core of the entire Congress-AAP campaign against the government in Punjab: the alleged prevalence of drugs among Punjab’s youth, famed for their robust physical prowess and machismo.

In a nutshell, Majithia has dared Kejriwal to repeat even once in court any of the allegations which the Delhi Chief Minister and his swarm of capped cheerleaders have been throwing at Majithia: that the Punjab minister deals in drugs. More importantly, Majithia is demanding a day-to-day hearing of the case, demonstrating confidence in proving his innocence.

The case promises to be a game- changer, with Kejriwal reduced from principal accuser to the main accused.

Ironically, the only basis of these allegations is a statement to the media by one of the most dreaded drug lords in the state: Jasbir Singh Bhola. Even more ironically, it is the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government, with Sukhbir Singh Badal as Home Minister, that has dared to nab Bhola and throw him firmly behind bars.

The Opposition wants everyone to believe Bhola’s statement as gospel truth. “Bhola accusing me of drug trade is like Nathuram Godse accusing Nehru of a plot to kill Mahatma Gandhi. Will a government with links to a drug don have the courage to arrest that don and risk disclosures against it? Obviously, Bhola was not supposed to garland
me for putting him behind bars,” says a fuming Majithia.

Bhola’s statement was clearly a diversionary tactic with two objectives: derail and mislead the course of investigations and to put the government on the defensive so that it does not go whole hog against him. He miscalculated both the government’s and Sukhbir Singh Badal’s resolve to fight drugs. The government went after him and other drug dealers in the state with a vengeance. None of the big names associated in the media with drugs is walking free in Punjab today.

But Bhola’s statement was a godsend to an Opposition lying in disarray. Captain Amarinder Singh led-Congress had suffered two unprecedented back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Sukhbir Badal-led Akalis. The government has been pushing an aggressive development, social welfare and reforms agenda. Punjab has transformed itself from a land of power cuts to a power surplus state. It has one more International Airport at Mohali that promises to boost business, trade and industry. The economy has turned the corner, with the state’s own revenue growing three-fold. On the farmers’ front, the government gives free power to the agriculture sector, apart from a host of other incentives.

Then came Mr Rahul Gandhi with his maverick assertion that 70 percent of Punjabis are drug addicts. By a rough calculation, that would make 2.10 crore drug addicts in Punjab alone. By a simple calculation of ratio between drugs and crime, this should mean at least 5,000 murders and an equal number of rapes in Punjab every day — 3 lakh every month, and 36 lakh murders and rapes in Punjab every year. Every Punjabi would appear to be raping a girl or killing a fellow Punjabi every hour. Punjab would be an unimaginable inferno!

Congress and AAP have carried political hyperbole to the theatre of the absurd and horror and have seriously dragged Punjab and the country’s image down into Delhi’s dreaded manholes.

It is not the first time that Punjab has been demonised. One can scarcely forget the price the country had to pay for such demonisation of Punjabis and Sikhs as terrorists and traitors by the Congress in 1984. The country had to suffer a most traumatic army assault on the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, Sri Harmandar Sahib, a tragic assassination of a prime minister and witness the country’s worst communal holocaust since 1947 in the November 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and some other parts of the country. Now, the script is being re-written and re-enacted replacing terrorists and traitors with drug addicts. They will be viewed with suspicion by recruiting agencies throughout the country and the price will be paid in terms of limiting Punjabi youth to Punjab alone for employment.

This is a criminal act which hurts our national interest. Someone must tell Kejriwal and Rahul that in their pursuit of power, they must not play havoc with the country’s entire social fabric.

And what has been Kejriwal’s or his party’s contribution to fighting drug addiction — to the extent that it does exist at the social level? For the record, an AIIMS study has put the problem in Punjab at 0.67 percent — a far cry from Rahul Gandhi’s diagnosis of 70 percent and Kejriwal’s even higher — 80 percent. Surely even these leaders realise that 80 percent of three crore population comes to 2.40 crore in Punjab alone. Where are we headed?

For the record too, the state of Punjab has been the intervarsity sports champion for the past 29 years. This year, Punjabi University emerged as the overall winner of the Maulana Abul Kalam Trophy while Amritsar’s Guru Nanak Dev University finished runner up. This year again, Punjab schoolboys won a staggering 109 gold medals in the national school games and 388 medals overall. Punjab boys and girls continue to dominate in every sport including hockey, soccer, athletics and cricket. Punjab had seven boys in the Indian hockey team that emerged as Asian Champions at Incheon two years ago. Five Punjab players feature in our hockey team for the Rio Olympics. The country’s only individual gold medal winner in Olympics — Abhinav Bindra — comes from Punjab. Where are all these outstanding international sportsmen coming from if Punjab is in the grip of drugs?

In their quest for power, these leaders do not mind painting a Bollywood nightmare for Punjab. No wonder, one of the co-producers of the film Udta Punjab is a member of the AAP and one who had offered “all kinds of help in spreading Kejriwal’s political message.” The message is: demonise Punjab and democratise this demonisation.

And now, back to the hour of reckoning. Kejriwal’s cheerleaders boast that they will declare it a million times that Majithia is a drug dealer. Majithia’s response to Kejriwal is crisp too:”Show the courage to say it even once before the judge. Mard da bachcha ban te day-to-day hearing karva ke loka samhne sach da faisla hon de.” (Be a man and agree to day-to-day hearing and let Punjabis see the truth quickly.)

Will Kejriwal agree? Or will he just drag the case beyond elections and then resort to his pet ploy — “I apologise for any mistake committed” — after the elections?
Anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, truth takes a flight in the electoral storm in Punjab.

[email protected]