The issue of drug abuse that concerns pan-Punjab hit the national headlines for the first time when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, while speaking at Punjab University in October 2012, said “70 per cent of youth in the state have a drug problem”. Then, several months before the state was to go to the polls in February 2017, Bollywood film ‘Udta Punjab’ triggered a raging debate on the issue, and, in the process, again gave a handle to Opposition parties to gun for the ruling SAD-BJP coalition over its alleged inaction against drug mafia.
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Now, in the run-up to the elections, both Congress and AAP in their campaigns are stridently attacking the Badals, holding them responsible for rampant drug addiction among Punjab youths. In Majitha, the Opposition parties have rather fashioned their entire campaign around the issue given that Bikram Singh Majithia, the Finance Minister and sitting SAD MLA of the constituency, is an accused in an alleged multi-crore synthetic drugs racket. Leaders of both parties have vowed to send Majithia to jail if voted to power.
What the youth has to say?
The opinion seems to be divided regarding the ruling SAD in the constituency. While many locals appreciated MLA Majithia for carrying out various development works, a number of them accepted that drug abuse was a severe problem and had the potential to sway election results in favour of either Congress or AAP and against SAD-BJP.
Tanveer Singh, 26, gave a clean chit to Bikram Singh Majithia and said his party workers had colluded with the mafia. “His image on a personal level is clean but the people appointed by him to work in different areas have worked against him,” Singh said. However, Gurnam Singh, a fruit seller in Majitha, said sale and abuse of drugs have increased under the SAD rule in last 10 years and voters have made up their mind to vote them out in upcoming elections.
Satnam Singh, a middle-aged man from a nearby village, said it were in the deep pockets of Majitha where anger against ruling MLA has been building up. Speaking with indianexpress.com, Himmat Singh Shergill, AAP candidate from Majitha, said people were afraid of speaking openly against Bikram Singh Majithia.
“Majithia has filed fake FIRs against people who do not agree with him. When we come to power, we will take action against him and put him behind bars for his involvement in drug trade,” Shergill said. He also added both Congress and SAD were hand-in-glove when it came to issue of drugs.
“(PPPC president) Captain Amarinder Singh and Bikram Singh Majithia have very good family relations. When theCaptain came here to campaign, he did not utter a single word against Majithia,” he added. Congress workers in the region levelled similar allegations against AAP of having a “secret collaboration” with SAD. The Akalis, on the other hand, denied all the allegations terming them as mere rumours.
Final stage of campaigning
A major part of the road from Amritsar to Majitha lies in a dilapidated state and one can find offices of all the three major parties, AAP, Congress and SAD, standing in a row as soon as you enter the area. On Monday, a day after AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited Majitha and held five ‘gram sabhas’, the AAP party office bustled with volunteers preparing for the day’s campaign.
A similar flurry of activity could be seen at Congress party office where a group of youth volunteers sat in a circle as they divided duties among themselves. However, a major difference between both of them was that of woman participation in the campaign. While young women made up a large section of AAP volunteers whose functioning is also being looked after by a woman, Congress party workers mainly comprised of men.
The scenario at the Akali Dal office, meanwhile, lacked any enthusiasm. However, the party workers claimed Bikram Singh Majithia would win the upcoming elections by not less than 55,000 votes. Rahul Gandhi also kick-started his three-day campaign in the state by addressing a rally in Majitha on January 27. For 42-year-old Majithia, who is the brother-in-law of Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, the challenge is tough in his home turf as he battles serious allegations and strong opposition.