Chandigarh, May 11: Contrary to the denials by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, it is the Akali Dal manifesto for 2004 and 2011 elections to the general house of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee that recognizes the menace of drugs in Punjab and talks of launching de-addiction centres and launching awareness campaign. Manifestos are after all, manifestos, mostly to be forgotten. Drugs having hit Punjab severely is not contested. It is the way Kumar Viswas has tried to denigrate the state in his video graphed song that raises certain vital questions.
The 2004 manifesto stated on page 12, “The SGPC would launch de-addiction campaign at a massive scale to wean away the youth from increasing menace of drugs”. The manifesto also promised opening up of de-addiction centres. Punjab was ruled by the Congress at that time with Capt Amarinder Singh as the chief minister. A similar promise was made by the Akali Dal in 2011 manifesto. It is the Akali Dal that itself is on the record recognizing this problem. The party manifestos for Assembly elections have not been referred to here.
However, the issue here is the video song released by AAP leader Kumar Viswas. For him, it is the hard working Jatt (farmer) already deep in agrarian crisis who has fallen victim to the menace and the song is addressed to him, not to the Punjabis as such. He is perhaps unaware of the background of ‘Pagri Sambhal Jatta’ campaign launched by Ajit Singh, uncle of Shaheed Bhagat Singh going by his appeal to the Jatts to shun drugs. His appeal is in the name of his daughters. He should have gone around in the countryside rather than depending upon his party’s ‘senior leaders’ to get the much needed feedback and understand the socio-economic dynamics of the rural society in this state. The use of opium and poppy husk has been prevalent for decades but the number of addicts used to be few and they were known as ‘amlis’.
The use of opium became more prevalent when migrant workers started coming to Punjab with the advent of green revolution when the Punjab farmers started cultivating paddy. The labour force would be given opium to get more work and this used to be part of the contract per cultivation or harvesting season. The harvesting job has now been almost totally mechanized.
One should go back to the survey on which the statement of Congress supremo Rahul Gandhi was based about 70 per cent of the youth in the state having been hooked to drugs. This was the Guru Nanak Dev University survey based upon a small sample which concluded that 70 per cent of those taking drugs were youth! There have been number of other surveys subsequently that indicate gravity of situation in the state.
Going by the surveys, one should find every second youth under the influence of drugs, both in urban as well as rural areas. This is why Kumar Viswas should have gone around the state, including in border village to understand the crisis. One should travel across the state to meet such youth in the cities and villages and it is only then the reality of the situation would emerge to an outsider.
A recent report datelined Ludhiana in an English paper indicated yet another darker side of the crisis and it had nothing to do with the ‘Jatt’ of Kumar Viswas. This report referred to brother and sister or husband and wife from well-to-do families getting hooked to drugs. The problem surfaced when they finally sought medical advice. The problem is elsewhere.
The number of private de-addiction centres that have come up are point to the menace and there have been reports of ill-treatment of addicts in these centres. The problem is there and has been aggravating over the years. However, the picture that is painted in the video is more of a distortion that addressing the real issue.
At one level, it is the model of development that would have to be analysed to seek answer to certain problems like increasing incidence of suicides by farmers and farm workers, drug addiction, unemployment and the like. Political patronage to drug smugglers is just one aspect. Peddlers get patronage at the police station level.
Political parties including Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress promise to end this menace within no time of taking over. There is no need to question this promise. However, none of these parties have come up with any alternative model of development that would take holistic view of the situation in this state. The problems are too well known. The issue is the answer to these problems, the answer that is not superficial. Kumar Viswas trivalises the problem.