Life in contemporary Punjab is no laughing matter. The decades-long bhangra rap of the Green Revolution is playing to a less insistent beat as production and growth taper off. An indifferent appetite for capital investment, seen in various parts of the country over the last two years, has taken its toll on industry. And the land that gloried in the Patiala peg now battles the deadly social problem of hard drugs, allegedly promoted to an industrial scale by the well-connected. Such are the grim issues which will face the electorate early next year, when the state goes to polls. But the Punjabi spirit laughs in the face of adversity. Quite literally.
Traditionally, Punjab elections are straight contests. The Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine come out of their corners fighting, and whoever is on their feet in the end, wins. But this time, there’s a third corner in the fray, and it’s a barrel of laughs. Aam Aadmi Party comedian Bhagwant Mann, MP from Sangrur, invited startled laughter by videographing access to Parliament, and derision by getting physical with the media. Fellow comedian Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi has taken over as convenor of the state unit of AAP, and the nation awaits his performances. And there is Navjot Singh Sidhu, whose television career upholds the validity of the controversial adage: “Laugh, and the world laughs at you.” Sidhu has just opened the innings of the Awaaz-e-Punjab front, from which much entertainment may be expected.
In January or February, when there’s a nip in the air (and another in the hip flask, perchance) these disruptive electoral forces will be at play in Punjab. As voters confront dreadfully serious issues on which lives and livelihoods depend, they will welcome the occasional excuse to laugh out loud.