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Will Rahul Stick to Claim That 70% Youth Addicted to Drugs in Punjab?

As polling day nears in Punjab, both the Congress and the SAD-BJP are getting out the big guns. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi will be in Punjab for three days from January 27 even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigns in Jalandhar and Ludhiana on January 27 and 29.

Jyoti Kamal | CNN-News18jyotik

Updated:January 27, 2017, 12:25 PM IST
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Will Rahul Stick to Claim That 70% Youth Addicted to Drugs in Punjab?
Rahul Gandhi (R) is presented with a turban by his party supporters during a campaign rally in Punjab/File photo

Ludhiana: As polling day nears in Punjab, both the Congress and the SAD-BJP are getting out the big guns. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi will be in Punjab for three days from January 27 even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigns in Jalandhar and Ludhiana on January 27 and 29.

The symbolic intent of Rahul Gandhi's rallies is clear. Strike at the heartland of the Akalis. He will campaign first in Majitha, the constituency that Punjab's Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia who is the brother in law of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, represents.

Rahul Gandhi will be accompanied by Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu to complete the Congress power projection. Following the Majitha rally, Rahul will head to Jalalabad from where Sukhbir Badal will contest against Congress' Ravneet Bittu and AAP's Bhagwant Mann.

Rahul's last day in Punjab will be in Lambi from where Capt Amarinder Singh will contest Akali supremo Parkash Singh Badal on his home turf. AAP is fielding Jarnail Singh against the present and former chief ministers of Punjab. Jarnail Singh, a former journalist, had gained media attention on April 7, 2009 when he threw a shoe at then Home Minister P Chidambaram at a press conference in New Delhi.

Majitha holds particular significance for the Congress as Bikram Majithia along with Sukhbir Badal and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is understood to be the first line of leadership in the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Ever since criminals already in jail over drug charges named Majithia as being complicit in the drug trade he has had to face the brunt of allegations of letting drugs spread in Punjab.

Despite Bikram Majithia's denials and even launching defamation cases against several persons including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who had alluded to his connections with drug dealers, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have trained their guns on the Akali Minister also because he is from the first family of the Akalis and by targeting him they hope to weaken the leadership.

For Rahul Gandhi who has stuck to his rather dubious claim that 70 per cent of youth in Punjab is addicted to drugs, Majitha will be the platform where he can once again highlight Punjab's drug challenge.

It is not certain, though, if he will stick to his figures again. The exact numbers of Punjab citizens consuming drugs has remained mired in controversy in the absence of credible studies and data. Congress in a release in 2015 cited the latest information provided by the state government that stated 6,22,381 patients have approached de-addiction centres.

The Congress had multiplied that figure by 5 to arrive at a rough number of drug addicts in Punjab - claiming very few people report to de addiction centres.

However, even by the extrapolated figures, Punjab's addiction level falls to somewhere between 10 to 15 per cent of its population. That figure too is worrisome, but it is nowhere near Rahul Gandhi’s claim of 70 per cent.

The Congress in its manifesto has promised to wipe out drug supply, distribution and consumption in four weeks of coming to power, a promise made earlier by the AAP in its youth manifesto.

The Shiromani Akali Dal has gone a step further and assured creation of special centers to rehabilitate youth dragged into drugs and has also announced a special incentive of Rs 2 Lakh to be given to families of youth who successfully quit drugs.

The task of contesting Rahul's charges will fall on Bikram Majithia. His constituency is barely 15 kilometres from the India Pakistan border. In a bid to showcase their anti-drug credentials the Akalis have also promised an "impregnable special border area force" to check the inflow of drugs from Pakistan.

Whatever, may the statistics be, no party in Punjab today can chose to turn away from the drug menace. If anything, they can only promise the toughest possible action in a bid to appease angry voters who believe drugs in Punjab flow with the complicity of those in power.

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