Come election season in Punjab, the air is full of hoarse tweets from seasonal birds who are only interested in the possibility of stealing electoral fruit. On the one hand, there are people who take pride in Punjab, its youth, hard-working farmers, start-up entrepreneurs, airports, infrastructure, its status as the only power-surplus state. On the other hand, there are those who find nothing right with the state and insult its youth by calling them drug addicts and derelicts.
While not oblivious to the challenges Punjab faces, I am proud to see my state surging ahead despite its many problems. I am proud that Punjab is the most peaceful state in the country, completely free from communal tensions despite conspiracies to divide society on one ground or another. Attempts are made to destabilise Punjab and our opponents go to the extent of committing acts of sacrilege against the Guru Granth Sahib. The motives behind that conspiracy came to light when prominent leaders from the Congress adorned the stage where resolutions demanding Khalistan were passed. The AAP could scarcely hide its support and admiration for that function.
The AAP’s plight can be seen from the politically convenient somersault that Arvind Kejriwal did on the SYL issue. In Punjab, he opposed the SYL canal, saying that Punjab’s riverwaters belong to the state. But in Delhi, he declared that the waters belonged to everyone, not just
The fables of Punjab’s critics are full of contradictions. Take drugs, for instance. Rahul Gandhi has declared that 70 per cent of Punjab’s youth are drug addicts. But the facts tell a different story: An AIIMS study recently put the figure at 0.84 per cent. We recognise that even 0.84 per cent is on the high side and it is a challenge we are going all out to fight.
The fact is that none of the drugs is manufactured in Punjab. Drugs that start out from Afghanistan and are meant to travel deep into our country find their way into the state. The primary job of stopping drug supplies is of the BSF. Punjab Police’s job is to deal with and mop up the drug trade that the BSF is unable or unwilling to stop. In this task, Punjab Police has done a job that speaks for itself. As a result of the massive operation launched against drugs, recoveries rose from 2 kg in 2002 to 350 kg of heroin in 2014. The conviction rate in these cases is 73 per cent, the highest in the country. I do not even wish to talk about how easily drugs are available to students in front of colleges and universities in Kejriwal’s Delhi.
Drugs are a high-stakes business involving international mafias. That probably explains some compromises at the border. In Punjab, the problem was made worse by the availability of sudden money, thanks to a phenomenal real estate boom. Drug abuse was one of its negative side effects. The war on drugs is a high-priority area for the SAD-BJP government. Most of the big names in the drug trade have either fled the state or been put behind bars.
The criticism of Punjab on the farmer front is most ridiculous. The Congress and the AAP accuse us of financial imprudence when we give free power and other facilities to farmers. Yet, whenever a farmer commits suicide, they accuse us of not doing enough.
Prices of agricultural produce have fallen far behind the rise in prices of inputs like fertiliser, insecticide, etc. The only way out is to accept the Swaminathan formula of 50 per cent profit over the cost of production as the basis for MSPs. In addition, we need assured marketing for alternative crops like maize, etc. New initiatives like 100 per cent FDI in food processing could be a game-changer.
The Punjab government is doing far more than any other state for farmers.
We are the only state to give free power to nearly 12 lakh tubewells of farmers, an annual relief of Rs 5,000 crore. We are releasing 1.75 lakh more tubewell connections to help small and marginal farmers get access to better irrigation — that too with free power. We are the only state to give an interest-free loan of Rs 50,000 per crop to farmers to help them finance investment. The only one to give Rs 50,000 of free medical aid to farmers and other poor sections and introduce a pension-cum-provident-fund scheme for farmers. We are the only state to have enacted a law to bail out farmers in debt to non-institutional sources. This law frees farmers who have already paid off a certain multiple of their original loan amount. It is only because of the state government’s support to farmers that the country was food secure despite two back-to-back droughts. Will the AAP and the Congress emulate these policies in other states? Will they even tell the Punjab farmer what more they propose to do?
Does Kejriwal give free power to the small number of farmers in Delhi? He was quick to enact the tamasha of visiting the family of a farmer who had committed suicide in Punjab. But he did not even discontinue his speech when a farmer hanged himself from a tree right in front of him at a rally.
And the Congress? Amarinder Singh’s only contribution to the Punjab farmer when he was CM was to discontinue the facility of free power to tubewells given by Sardar Parkash Singh Badal.
This is the stuff Punjab’s fair-weather critics are made of.