Punjab Needs Lasting Change, Not Easy Promises

On 4th February 2017, the people of Punjab were given a chance to fight for their lives. And they gave a plausible mandate in the Legislative Assembly election. They chose the Congress party.

As for the Congress, a victory that came with a thumping majority of solid 77 seats in the Assembly was hard-earned for sure. At a time when the entire country was rejoicing the Modi wave, it was only Punjab who trusted Congress for its promise to free the state from the scourge of drugs. However, the achievements are yet to be seen.

When Captain Amarinder Singh was re-appointed as the Punjab Congress chief, he vowed by Gutka (a holy Sikh book) at Talwandi Sabo that if he takes office, then he will wipe drugs out of the state in just thirty days. Even if it was an election rhetoric, which politicians often make, it is still important to stand tall to the claims that have an impact on the state’s survival. Nine months have passed since Congress got the mandate and although several measures are being adopted by the government to stop the ever-increasing drug menace in the state, so far, no actions have been taken against the corrupt SAD leaders and drug mafia.

While Punjabis took a wise decision by entrusting the state to experienced hands like those of Captain Amarinder Singh, Punjab’s condition has been more or less the same.

Punjabis entrusting their state to Captain Amarinder Singh is not something new. In fact, Captain has fulfilled his promises in the past too. When he first took the oath as Punjab’s CM in 2002, he promised the people of the state that the Congress Government would act against the corrupt Akali leaders, and it did. In December 2003, SAD leaders Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal were sent to jail on corruption charges, after their bail pleas in the disproportionate assets case were rejected. Nobody else, but Captain had the strength to do that. And he did.

So, why not now? Why no action has been taken against SAD leader and former revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia till now, even when 40 Congress MLAs are seeking action against him? These MLAs know that Punjabis voted them on the promise of tackling corruption by ministers in the previous regime, including Majithia. The incompetence or unwillingness of the government to act against them would be nothing else but a betrayal of trust.

Power, Politics & Drugs – The Trio That Wrecked Punjab

Today, Punjab has its back to the wall. With the unemployment rate as high as 16.6%, the state has no jobs to offer to the youth. In fact, the state ranks 21st in the national-level rankings for the Ease of Doing Business (EODB), a steep fall from the number 12 spot that it held in 2016. Lack of employment and business opportunities, a failing economy and years of governmental nonchalance has left the state in a storm of misery.

Over the years, a lot has been said and written on the crippling state of Punjab, but not much has been revealed about the political drug nexus that engulfs the state. Politics and power have always ruled Punjab and continue to do so. And, the latest apology issued by The Tribune for carrying reports of former SAD minister Bikram Singh Majithia being involved in synthetic drug racket is a testament to this fact.

According to some of my sources, the Tribune’s Editor-in-Chief Harish Khare was against issuing an apology, but apparently, Justice SS Sodhi the Tribune Trust’s chairman forced the paper to carry the craven front-page apology to Majithia. Now that SS Sodhi has been replaced by the current governor of J&K, NN Vohra, it came out as an act of self-chastisement, but the damage that this apology did to the paper’s credibility is past mending.

Bikram Singh Majithia is the former Punjab Revenue Minister, the brother-in-law of the state’s Ex-Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, and the brother of Union Minister of Food Processing, Harsimrat Kaur Badal. His kith and kin do carry a lot of weight, but that doesn’t free him from all the allegations that he has been accused of.

Almost three years back, drug peddler Jagdish Singh Bhola, a suspended DSP, and Arjuna awardee, accused Bikram Singh Majithia of being involved in a multi-crore drug trafficking racket. Fast forward to today and a plea has been filed in the High Court recently by an intervenor in the same case. The applicant demands that ED deputy director Niranjan Singh should submit a status report as to what action enforcement directorate has taken on Bikram Singh Majithia’s alleged role in the drug racket case. Now that the Punjab and Haryana High Court has issued a notice to the Punjab Government on this petition seeking interrogation of Majithia, the Punjab Government needs to give a reply on the issue before November 28.  As yet, no probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been done.

When in the past renowned politicians like P. V. Narasimha Rao, Jayalalithaa, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav have been investigated by the CBI, then why can’t Majithia be investigated? If he is in the clear, he must prove so.

Similarly, no investigation has ever been done on the powerful Badal clan. Parkash Singh Badal, the former chief minister of Punjab, who came from a humble background and made his political debut in the late 1940s, has grown his wealth enormously. The family’s hold on wealth could be estimated from the fact that the Badals have majority stakes in several transport companies, they own Orbit Resorts Private Limited and also have enormous stakes in the uber-luxe resort Sukhvilas, which became the talk of the town after its inauguration last year.

The SAD Government’s nefarious ways to loot the people of Punjab don’t really need a mention, but what raises my hackles is the lack of government’s initiative to probe into the wealth that the Badals are accumulating and how.

The government must also probe Punjab Leader of Opposition (LOP) Sukhpal Singh Khaira, against whom an arrest warrant was issued on October 31 by a Fazilka court for his involvement in a drug smuggling case. Even when the Punjab and Haryana high court has stayed the warrant, it is essential to find out the reality of the leader, and hence, the Punjab Government must act.

The Punjab Government must take the high road. CBI investigations should be done on all those politicians who have been accused of their involvement in drug trafficking. And those who have been increasing their wealth and businesses by virtue of their political clout must be incarcerated.

Punjab Needs A Grassroots Movement

After coming to power in Punjab, the Congress Government formed a special task force (STF) against its war on drugs. Up till now, a buddy system has been created for school children to spread awareness about drug abuse prevention and an outdoor patient department (OPD) service for drug addicts is launched. And recently, a campaign to organise village level sports tournaments across the state has been announced too. These tournaments are believed to divert the youth’s energy from drugs to sports. The Congress Government has also earmarked Rs 174 crore for the prevention of cancer and drug de-addiction.

So far, some measures have been taken to curb the drug menace, but still, they fail to live up to the promises made by the party in its election manifesto. It is a long way to go.

Apparently, the state has pending bills worth Rs 5,000 crore. Salaries of lakhs of government employees are being delayed time and again. While the Congress Government got a debt-ridden state and a deficit state treasury from the previous government, the public doesn’t understand this. People need money to run their homes, and they can’t wait.

It stands to reason that the government needs to implement a bottom-up approach, which should focus on reviving the economy and improving the level of employment in Punjab. MNCs should be brought into the state. But for that to happen, Punjab’s youth needs to move away from drugs. Rehabilitating the youth and breaking the drug mafia, thus, should be of utmost importance for the government.

One can easily observe small drug peddlers being imprisoned in the state, but the real achievement would be to tackle the drug mafia and its kingpins. Even today, drugs are being sold in the state – though costlier than before – but their availability is still devastating the state.

On 4th November 2017 Italy’s police seized 24 million tramadol tablets which were manufactured in Amritsar for a Dubai-based company. The consignment was for funding the terror activities of Islamic State militants. Such is the condition of drug trafficking in the state that Punjab-made drug has now set foot on the ISIS heartland and the government has not been able to crack the whip on the drug mafia.

Last year, the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stated that the entire stretch of 3,323-km-long border between India and Pakistan will be “completely sealed” by December 2018. Punjab State Government must ask the Central Government for the progress made so far because a complete crackdown on drugs is only possible if the porous borders of Punjab are sealed to restrict the flow of drugs. Mr. Modi had promised that if the BJP-led NDA will come into power, it will put an end to the act of pushing drugs into the Indian Territory from across the border. But, unfortunately, these words were nothing else than exaggerated rhetoric.

Then, action must be taken against all those politicians who have been involved in the drug trade or else the government’s image will take a hit. Critics will rejoice claiming that all the political parties work hand in glove with drug mafia, and BJP/SAD leaders will call the drug menace in the state nothing but a Congress-run propaganda to win the elections.

The state that was once the wealthiest state of the country needs some significant structural reforms to regain its lost glory, and Congress has got a brilliant opportunity to re-establish the state and to revive the party. Just like the Gujarat model revived the BJP, a prospering Punjab’s model could revive the Congress as well.

As this would be the CM Captain Amarinder Singh’s last term before taking political exile, he must walk the talk and prove why the Punjabis were not wrong in choosing him at a time when they needed him the most. The people of Punjab have built their hopes on the Congress party. Right actions must be taken quickly as Punjab doesn’t have time to wait for results.

Schools are required to be sanitized and right education should be provided on the ill effects of drug abuse. Free rehabilitation should be given to drug addicts and skilled jobs should be provided to keep the youth away from drugs. Drug mafia should be busted soon, and the wrongdoers must be sent to prison before it gets too late. People must get the message that nobody is above the law.

It is true that the Congress Government has got its own challenges, but it is equally true that it needs to take new people on board to work with a fresh approach. Many influential Punjabi entrepreneurs, industrialists, and NRIs are willing to help the government. They must be reached out, and Punjab must be saved.

What Punjab needs right now is a strong political and social will to fight this war against drug terrorism. There’s a huge nexus and in order to make Punjab drug free, the triangle of Politicians/Police/Smugglers that are involved in the drug menace needs to be broken.

The Punjab Government needs to give lasting change instead of easy promises. Punjab is fighting the toughest battle ever and only an iron hand, a messiah, could save it from ebbing.

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