Attention, Dy CM Badal: The drug epidemic in Punjab is not a Rahul Gandhi conspiracy

Facing flak from his own ally - the BJP - for his government's inability to curb the growing drug menace in Punjab, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal has now blamed the Gandhis 'hatred of the Sikhs' for the 'constant defamation' of 'brave Punjabis'. His remarks come weeks ahead of BJP chief Amit Shah's anti-drug rally in the state.

FP Politics January 06, 2015 11:11:25 IST
Attention, Dy CM Badal: The drug epidemic in Punjab is not a Rahul Gandhi conspiracy

Facing flak from his own ally, the BJP party, for his government's inability to curb the growing drug menace in Punjab, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal turned around and blamed the Gandhi family's  'hatred of the Sikhs' for his woes. Badal also expressed unhappiness over the BJP's attempts to project Punjab as a major drug producing and consuming state.His remarks, not accidentally, come weeks ahead of BJP chief Amit Shah's anti-drug rally in the state.

Attention Dy CM Badal The drug epidemic in Punjab is not a Rahul Gandhi conspiracy

SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal raked up Rahul 2012 remarks on the drug problem in Punjab. AFP

A frustrated deputy CM, who is under fire following allegations that claim Akali Dal ministers' are involved in drug trade in the state, declared that there was "no drug production" in Punjab. "Not even a gram of any drug is produced in Punjab and it is either coming from across the border or from neighbouring states," Badal said.

Badal used the occasion to once again slam Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi for his "7 out of 10 Punjab youth have a drug problem" remark that was made way back in 2012.

Badal, according to this Indian Express report, claimed that the Gandhis still hated Sikhs and accused Rahul of 'engineering a conspiracy to defame brave Punjabis'.

“First, Punjabis were labelled as terrorists. I remember when my father, Badal Sahib, was kept in Coimbatore jail, my mother and I were not allowed to sit in taxis and rickshaws after being called terrorists. Are we terrorists?”, he said.

He blamed Rahul's remark for widespread media coverage of the drug epidemic in Punjab.

"We are trying to save the youth of our country. The image of Punjab should not be tarnished. Rather than calling us drug lords, Punjab should be appreciated. The Congress called us drug addicts and Rahul Gandhi tarnished the image of Punjabis by calling them so. We are fighting drug addiction. We are holding this rally close to the border because nation should know where the drugs come from," said Badal, according to the DNA.

But Badal failed to acknowledge the fact that the 2010-11 state disaster report, prepared by the Punjab government and submitted long before Rahul had made his speech, states the following:

"Household surveys conducted by International Classification of Diseases of the UN indicates that there is at least one drug addict in the 65 percent of families in Majha (Amritsar area) and Doaba (Jalandhar area); and 64 percent of families in Malwa (Bathinda area). Three out of 10 girls have abused one or the other drug. Nearly 66 percent of school students take gutka or tobacco; and about seven out of 10 college students abuse one or the other drug."

Another study by Chandigarh-based Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research discovered an eight-fold increase in patients approaching the institute for treatment, as Firstpost had noted earlier.

At a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal (Sukhbir's father), a report submitted to the government stated that over 2.93 lakh drug addicts were treated in out patient departments (OPDs) while 9,427 lakh have been rehabilitated as indoor patients in 24 drug de-addiction centres in Punjab over the last few months.

A study by the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh, headed by Dr Pramod Kumar, showed that almost 65 percent of addicts in Punjab consume drugs daily. On an average, 14 cases of drug smuggling are registered every day and 16 people booked daily under the NDPS Act. Around 270 kg of drugs (average) are seized every year in Punjab.

"Around 62 percent of the rural and 37 percent of urban youth have access to drugs in the state. Drugs abuse have been leading to serious health complications, including HIV and AIDS as many addicts have started injecting drugs," Professor PS Verma of the IDC had told Firstpost.

Adding to this damning picture are recent revelations of the Akali Dal's involvement in the drug trade in Punjab. The Enforcement Directorate investigating a Rs 6,000 crore case from 2013 when the Punjab Police busted an international synthetic drugs racket in the state.

Jagdish Bhola, a former DSP and druglord, upon interrogation, had named Damanvir Singh, office-bearer of the Akali Dal’s youth wing in the same case, forcing his father Punjab Jails minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur to resign.

In his 19-page statement, Jagdish, an Arjun Awardee wrestler, had reportedly told the ED that a minister with an important portfolio is the 'kingpin’ of the drugs racket in Punjab which has international dimensions.

Sukhbir Singh Badal's brother-in-law and Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia - was questioned by ED officials last month for over four hours with regard to money-laundering links to the racket. Badal, however, has ruled out Majithia's resignation, despite pressure from its BJP ally.

Punjab's failure to control its drug problem also found mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's radio address to the nation in December. During his address, he in fact endorsed Rahul's view saying, "when I went to Punjab, several mothers met me, they were expressing great anger, great pain (about drugs)." Modi termed drugs as a 3D problem - darkness, destruction and devastation. Soon after his speech, BJP's Yuva Morcha in Jalandhar asked youth to join the BJP and make Punjab drug-free.

Not surprisingly, Badal has been quick to brush aside such instances of political embarassment, telling reporters that BJP and SAD are "on the same page" on the issue of drugs, and noting that unlike Rahul, Modi had not claimed that 70 percent of the state's residents were drug addicts.

As Firstpost Executive Editor Lakshmi Chaudhry noted in the past, Badal's aversion to the facts is typical of the Punjab political establishment:

Politicans are reluctant to speak of the drug epidemic and even thrive on it. The Times notes that more than 110 pounds of heroin were seized in the recent elections, where drugs became the new election freebie of choice for the competing parties. But Tehelka reveals more: that EC officials also “impounded close to 3 lakh capsules along with 2,000 injection vials of Avil and 3,000 cases of Recodex cough syrup.” Worse, most of the chemist shops in villages that supply prescription drugs operate under the patronage of these same politicians. Once the mother’s milk of Indian politics, alcohol has been replaced by a far more dangerous currency.

Badal's political parsing, however, will do little to assuage the voters of Punjab who know better than their Deputy CM that the drug epidemic cannot be air-brushed away in the name of expedience. If AAP's gains in the Lok Sabha elections in the state are any indication, they are already looking for a change. Unfortunately for the Badals, its not just their rivals, but also their own allies who hope to capitalise from their growing woes.

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