Nothing better illustrates the nexus between drugs and the political process in Punjab than a two-page letter written four years ago that’s now buried in Government files.
Written by then Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it’s as much of an indictment as a lament — on the staggering scale of drugs seized during the election campaign in Punjab.
The letter, obtained by The Indian Express, lays out the problem in stark terms. In January-March, 2012, simultaneous elections were held in one of the country’s biggest states, Uttar Pradesh, and
(Punjab) which is a fifth of UP’s size.
Now consider this: from the time of filing of the first nomination to the end of voting, various agencies, including the state police, central paramilitary forces, election observers deputed by the Election Commission seized more than 2700 kg of poppy husk from different parts of Punjab. The comparative figure for UP was just about 100 kg.
The 2012 elections, which saw the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)-BJP combine ward off a strong challenge from the Congress to retain Punjab, is also remembered for another thing: it was the first election in which an unusually large quentity of heroin (53.555 kg) meant for distribution among voters was seized.
UP, on the other hand, witnessed seizure of just a fraction of the amount of heroin seized in Punjab. Punjab led the way as far as recovery of smack was concerned: 3.79 kg was seized as opposed to 2 kg in UP. A rattled S Y Quraishi wrote to Manmohan Singh saying, among other things, that “every conceivable drug is being abused in the State”.
In his letter, sent on May 3, 2012, Quraishi waved countless red flags to the Prime Minister: “Our feedback reinforces several media and research findings that Punjab has emerged as a hub of drug trafficking due to its proximity to the golden crescent and about 40 per cent of the high potent drugs are transiting through the state to destinations as far as Europe and North America… What is more disconcerting is that the menace is ruining health, well-being and future of the youth in Punjab, who are particularly found falling prey to free supply/distribution of these substances as inducement during the polls.”
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Asked about that letter, Quraishi told The Indian Express: “What else could we have done? What we witnessed during the elections was something I had never encountered so far in my days in the EC. That we were shocked would be putting it mildly. I thought I should bring it to the notice of the Prime Minister so that some action could be taken to prevent the situation from turning worse.”
Asked if he had received any response from Singh, Quraishi replied, “I got a letter acknowleding receipt of my letter. After that nothing came to me.”
Incidentally, before the election, having received enough inputs from various agencies that drugs would play an important part in Punjab elections, Quraishi had held a detailed meeting with the then Director General of Narcotics Control Bureau O P Malik. The meeting also resulted in special surveillance cells being set up to check distribution of drugs before and during the poll campaign.
In his letter, Quraishi also shared with Singh the “startling facts” which came to the fore during the elections, including the quantitiy of various types of drugs seized.
EC sources say that almost 10 lakh tablets of various drugs and intoxicants were recovered in Punjab during the 2012 polls, while the figure for Uttar Pradesh was less than 10,000.