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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2042

Nexus Spells Trouble in Punjab

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

State assembly polls in Punjab are still a year away but the campaign bugle has been sounded. Leaders of the ruling Akali Dal-BJP government and their main challenger, the Congress have addressed large public meetings where they spoke the language of election campaigns. Both the parties got a shock when the new kid on the political block, the Aam Admi Party, held a rally of its own with an impressive crowd listening to the party convener, Arvind Kejriwal, taking on both the Akali-BJP combine and the Congress.

Punjab may be witnessing a three-way assembly contest, making it difficult to guess about the likely winner. But instead of speculating over the poll outcome the people of Punjab are perhaps worried more about a problem that confronts them almost every day. It is the drug problem that has affected the youth in the 18-35 age group in a big way. The Akali-BJP administration has deliberately underplayed this problem which looks all the more menacing because of a hardly concealed nexus among smugglers, police, politicians and terrorists.

After the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase this nexus is being talked about more openly. While it may take some time to complete a thorough probe into the attack on the airbase, what looks clear even is that it had a smuggler connection which made it easier for the terrorists from across the border to enter India. It is also obvious that the smugglers, who as a tribe cannot remain in business without some friends in the security agencies, have links to the masterminds of terror in Pakistan and the ISI handlers.

The drug smugglers deal in big money and it is not difficult for them to bribe their way through borders and police check posts. The smuggling of drugs into Punjab (or into the rest of India) must be a particularly lucrative business. Punjab is reported to consume various kinds of contraband drugs worth Rs 7,000 crore annually of which heroin alone accounts for Rs 6500, according to a study by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre of the Indian Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS).

The report is based on a survey carried out in 10 districts of Punjab, covering a population of 2.77 crore. It was discovered that 1.23 lakh people are ‘dependent’ on heroin. In per capita term, Punjab shows a four time higher consumption of drugs than the global average.

In October 2012, the Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi, had sparked off a controversy and earned the wrath of the Akali Dal by alleging that about 70 per cent of the Punjab population was consuming drugs. The state government rejected the allegation outright. The denial did not hide the fact that regardless of the percentage of drug users in the state, their number was alarmingly high. Something needed to be done straightaway before the problem aggravated but nothing much was done.

The Punjab government has continued to underplay the problem. Even after the arrest of a police officer, a former national-level athlete, in connection with a drug racket! Investigations into the arrest of the policeman led to the discovery of a wide nexus that allegedly involved some senior politicians belonging to the ruling party. The head of the state police at the time had reportedly mentioned the names of six politicians, two of them ministers.

The politicians were questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Nothing much came out of it. ED is amenable to influence from the Union Finance Ministry. The politicians hauled up for questioning denied their involvement. There was a demand that the probe be handed over to the CBI, which is another ‘caged parrot’ after an unsatisfactory probe by the state intelligence department. But when the State Congress President, Capt. Amrinder Singh, did not press for the CBI inquiry demand, the chapter about probing ministers was virtually closed.

The Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has rejected all allegations against his ministers. But he has found a scapegoat in the BSF which guards the borders. After the Pathankot attack by terrorists also he had rejected criticism of his police and passed the buck on to central security agencies, asking why they had failed to seal the border with Pakistan.

It is interesting that high court asked the question: Why Punjab was not serious in fighting the drug menace? It will appear that the state government has not shown the will to fight the drug menace which has grown with the help of smugglers.

It is to be noticed that by all accounts terrorism is trying to return to Punjab. The state government denies it. The BJP, which is a junior partner in the alliance that has ruled Punjab for a decade, is said to be embarrassed by the Akalis’ hardly concealed sympathy for the militants, jailed or convicted. The Akalis defend their action in the name of the Sikh community. The BJP has failed to dissuade the senior partner from being seen as pro-militant, perhaps fearful of being left in political wilderness should it be made to part company with the Akalis.

The BJP has been a silent spectator in the face of a rising chorus of corruption allegations against the ruling Badal dynasty. It has been reported that the BJP is embarrassed by the way the Akalis are running the government and has even threatened to quit the alliance. But the Akalis can easily call off the BJP bluff.

With elections drawing near, the two uncomfortable allies will have to work in unison if they have to ward off the challenge. Anti-incumbency is said to be at the peak in Punjab. That is the reason why the state Congress chief, Capt. Amrinder Singh says that the contest in the assembly election will be between the Congress and the AAP.

Of course, he may be boasting to demoralise the ruling combine. But the Akalis and their partner will be underestimating the public wrath in view of their governance record that has left Punjab, once the bread basket of India, grappling with a host of problems like drug trafficking, corruption at high levels, smuggler-terrorist nexus, and venal politicians besides downturn in agriculture and industry.

- Asian Tribune -

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