Udta Punjab: Vibrant Democracy should be able to absorb shocks


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, June 8: There is nothing new about this “most vibrant and biggest democracy” in the world feeling threatened by a Bollywood film. One should go back to the dark era that was part of this vibrant democracy known as Emergency promulgated in 1975. The most powerful Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she was at the pinnacle  got scared of  beautiful artistic film “Aandhi” produced by Gulzar. One of the then leading actors Suchitra Sen in the lead role of a woman with political ambition was superb with Sanjiv Kumar being her co-star.

This film was banned and released only after Emergency was lifted. This film is part of the classics. The Congress leaders now having jumped into the controversy relating to Udta Punjab should recall that period. Udta Punjab is a film about the drug menace in Punjab.  Can this film dictate the agenda for the Assembly election February 2017 in Punjab? The answer is  NO. Not much notice would have been taken minus this controversy. It is the people who are setting the agenda for this election this time and not the political parties that are functioning under illusions, on both sides of the spectrum.

The debate has raised broader issues  taking the intolerance debate to a new level.  It is the way the film certification board has treated it that has raised the controversy as the role of this body is not to draw moral boundaries. The people in Punjab would reject it in case they don’t like it. Of course, the producer has no right to stigmatise the people of  this state by portraying them as druggists. There is nothing apolitical in society and film people don’t work in isolation. The issue is of recognizing a problem and dealing with it, not necessarily by portraying all that is negative.

Punjab started attracting migrant workers with the advent of green revolution when paddy cultivation was introduced in this state as part of the strategy to make India self-sufficient in food despite the fact that this crop was not suited to the region and has caused havoc to its environment. The Punjabi farmers did not know how to cultivate paddy and this job was done by the migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The important part is that along with the wages, they used to be promised daily dose of opium or Bhukki (poppy husk). This was an arrangement. Opium was easily available with the supply coming both from within the country and from across the border that was then open.

The use of opium  and bhukki has been prevalent since decades and those who are trying to make the drug menace an election issue should try to go into the genesis of the problem. The cruel grandmother would give a little more dose to the unwanted girl child. Tablets used to be available with the village karyana shop even in late sixties. The tablets have been changing over the years and the shift is now towards what is known as Chitta, a chemical substance.

There is yet another very significant aspect that is also responsible for this problem turning into menace. Drug problem is among the most secular issues in the state and cuts across all party lines. Every political party and every candidate  is supposed to distribute bhukki and liquor. This happens even in elections to the general house of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. Aam Aadmi Party people in the state are fully aware of the ground situation but perhaps their voice is not being taken into account by the “high command”. The problem might have assumed alarming proportions but it is not the main issue  that can dictate political discourse. Farmers committing suicides is more serious. Dalits fighting for the land rights is another important issue and  AAP  leaders have not even taken notice of  the struggle launched by the dalits in several parts of Punjab.

AAP is trying to score brownie points by attacking some Akali leaders and its leaders who  have come from media (perhaps middle level) should realize that they language they use is just unprintable and they themselves would not have used the same as journalists. The profession has its own boundaries, not censorship. This could lead to self-goal for AAP in the absence of any evidence. AAP incharge in Punjab should not have opposed day-to-day hearing of the defamation case against him on this issue filed by Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia. This might facilitate him to come out with evidence, if any. These leaders can’t go on maligning the state.

Lastly, there is yet another highly controversial but unsubstantiated aspect of the drug menace. The problem has been there since decades but it was used as a weapon during the post-militancy period as a part of the design by the agencies to “neutralize” the youth. It is pertinent to mention that immediately after militancy was curbed, the so called cultural resurgence movement was launched by the agencies, again as part of design and this movement was the distortion of Punjabi lifestyle. Most of the Punjabi songs talked of “Ghar di Sharab Hove”, “Chaar botal Vodka” and the like. There is a pattern in this madness.

Coming to Udta Punjab, leave it to the better sense of the people after deleting words like “kanjar”. Let the freedom of expression prevail otherwise the controversy would only add to increase in the culture of intolerance.


Jagtar Singh


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