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Punjab drug menace disappears from poll narrative

Even as the campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls has only about two weeks left, Punjab drug menace has completely disappeared from the poll narrative in the Congress-ruled state.

Ranjeet Jamwal | Chandigarh |

In the run-up to the February 2017 Assembly polls, Punjab drug menace was the main issue in Punjab politics with Opposition parties seeking votes by promising to bring it to an end.

But even as the campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls has only about two weeks left, this issue has completely disappeared from the poll narrative in the Congress-ruled state.

Though Opposition parties accuse Ch ef Minister Amarinder Singh of not doing enough to end the menace and of failing to act against big fish involved in the drug trade, none of the political parties, including the ruling Congress or the Opposition parties including the Aam Aadmi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal, which was earlier quite vocal about it, are talking about it during their poll campaign.

This is despite the fact that the issue of drug menace was a major plank and instrumental in bringing back the Congress to power after a decade.

The AAP, which surprised everyone by winning four Lok Sabha seats (Sangrur, Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala) in the 2014 polls, had vociferously raised the issue. The current AAP Punjab president and Member of Parliament from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann, was vocal about the issue of drug abuse. But now it is no longer on top of even AAP’s poll agenda.

Former Punjab Director General of Police, Shashi Kant, who has been raising the issue continuously at various levels, said it was a collective failure of the political class not to raise the issue anymore. “The menace of drugs persists in Punjab. The fact that no party is raising the issue any more is that they have fully used it for political gains. They have now moved to other issues and probably accepted the problem as something insurmountable,” he said.

Instead of drugs, the emotive issue of sacrilege and the police firing on the antisacrilege protestors during the previous Parkash Singh Badal regime, farm loan waiver and unemployment have become the main issues in this Lok Sabha election.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh maintains that he is more than satisfied with the work done by his government to curb the drug menace in Punjab.

“In less than two years, we were able to break the backbone of the drug mafia. The SIT established with zero tolerance policy had, as of March 15, 2019, led to the registration of 19443 NDPS cases, with 22933 persons arrested and 469 kg heroin recovered,” the CM said.

“Most drug traffickers have either left the state or have become dormant due to strong and decisive action by the government. The people’s campaign we have built is also working wonders in helping wean youth away from drugs. Our focus now is on rehabilitation and cure, which is being managed aggressively through the OOAT clinics we have set up,” he added.

When asked why though the drug supply chain appears to have been hit, the demand for drugs still remains, Amarinder said the problem of demand is 10 years old and old habits die hard.

“Addiction is not something you can solve through policing. You need to create awareness, which our people’s campaign is doing. We have launched the Drug Abuse Prevention Officers’ (DAPO) Programme to create a mass anti-drug abuse movement with 5 lakh+ DAPOs self-volunteers already enrolled in it,” the CM said.

“We also have a successful ‘Buddy’s’ Programme’ for all schools and college students to educate and motivate children about ill-effects of drugs. As many as 5.5 lakh buddy groups have been formed so far with the aim to cover 40 lakh students. The movement against demand is gaining strength by the day, and I am confident we will be able to tackle the demand part also as effectively as we have done the supply chain part,” he added.