Focusing on drugs menace, AAP wins Punjabi hearts & votes

Focusing on drugs menace, AAP wins Punjabi hearts & votes

The overriding narrative in Punjab elections this time has been drugs and its youth caught in the labyrinth of vulnerability and addiction to this fast spiraling menace.

But one party that saw the writing on the wall crystal clear during elections was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a party its opponent in Punjab rubbished right from the start. The AAP campaign in this border state was heavily drug-centric; its rhetoric offered a response to the helpless silence of many mothers and widows who lost their loved ones to drugs and its grisly effects.

The connect was instant and the outcome was heartwarming to say the least for this political greenhorn party. The AAP drew a blank everywhere else in the country, but in Punjab it won 4 parliamentary seats -- equal to what the ruling Akali Dal won and a seat more than the Congress.

Regrettably for Punjab, elections acted as a catalyst to the drug flow. Statistics provided by the Election Commission of India bare it all. Out of the total 1,89,000 kg of drugs seized during elections in India, a whopping 1,39,000 kg -- close to three-fourth of the total recoveries -- were made in Punjab. Both the SAD-BJP combine and the Congress, perhaps, underestimated the potency of the drug issue in the state, which is also why these traditional arch rivals not only plunged in number of seats, but also lost heavily in vote share that went to the AAP -- a record 24.5 per cent, by far the best by any standard for a non-Congress or non-SAD-BJP combine in Punjab.That generations have been lost to drug abuse in Punjab has always hurt its natives.

 Just that the AAP candidates promised to walk the talk: made sure the oratory was beyond staple ingredients of opposition bashing and hollow pledges. The drug issue was something on the platter, but only a few vowed to square the circle. Settlements like Maqboolpura in Amritsar, sobriquet as the ‘locality of widows’, is a harsh reminder of precious little being done, until recently, to stem the rot. Every house in this locality has a tragedy to narrate; a death in every house due of drug abuse. There are 272 women in this area who receive the government’s widow pension, but for women like Shashi in Maqboolpura, nothing much has changed, even after she featured in an inspirational television show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ anchored by cine star Aamir Khan.The polls are over, but the Election Commission is perplexed with the spurt in flow of drugs into Punjab during polls. Sample this: The recovery of high-priced heroin from Punjab this year has already crossed 75 per cent of last year’s total seizures. In the first five months of this year, the Border Security Force has already recovered 242 kg of heroin from Punjab. Last year around 322 kg of heroine was seized from this state. Drugs estimated to be worth Rs 750 crore were recovered by various agencies from Punjab during the imposition of the model code of conduct.

Wet behind the ears

The AAP candidates in Punjab were mostly first timers, arguably wet behind the ears, when it came to understanding political nuances and taking on political heavyweights in their first electoral contest. But their connect at the grass root level with the people and their issues they touched upon perhaps got them the desired groundswell. The AAP MP from Sangrur in Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, who won with the highest margin of over 2 lakh votes by any candidate in Punjab, did some serious talking on drugs and youth even though he qualifies as a professional satirical comic artist.

Its not that the incumbent regime of the SAD-BJP did nothing to check the menace. But not only was the connect missing, the blemish on some of its own party men alleged to be involved in drug trade hurt the party’s image at a time when it needed the  most to show up its report card.

Punjab shares a 550-km border with Pakistan. The instructions from deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal and Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini were clear; Zero tolerance to drugs and drug paddlers. Major drug supply lines were broken and results showed. Since 2013, a sustained crackdown on paddlers and suppliers by the Punjab police provided hope for thousands of drug-addicted youth in Punjab. In 11-months, over 7,500 persons involved in drug trade were arrested and put behind bars  an average over 20 cases being registered each day at various police stations across the state. While the onslaught to break supply lines continued, avenues to wean away youth towards sports, especially in rural areas, also had its impact.

Stadiums were built all over. Vineet Joshi, assistant media advisor to Punjab government talking to Deccan Herald said, “Traditional countryside rustic sports like Kabaddi are being promoted with extreme extravagance. The sport is a rage in rural areas and several big and small nurseries are opening to incite youth into sports like Kabaddi.”

But the issue of drugs abuse in Punjab brings along certain complexities that need to be addressed. The State Disaster Management Plan states that some 73.5 per cent of the state’s youth aged between 16 and 35 years are affected by drugs. As the ECI imposed a strict vigil during the model code of conduct, de-addition centres across Punjab witnessed a spurt in number of patients facing withdrawal symptoms for want of opium and other drugs. Punjab falls in line of the international drug trafficking zone dubbed the ‘Golden Crescent’ and is a major transit and destination point for drugs coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The bumper opium crop in Afghanistan this year has made things ever worse.

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