How the Badals got themselves into a fix over Udta Punjab
As the controversy over the release of Udta Punjab continues to rage, the feeling is growing that Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal have dug themselves into a hole.
Several people Catch spoke with believe that if the Badals had not made a noise about Punjab being defamed in the film and got their ally BJP to stall its release, Udta would have come and gone without much controversy. As it is, they say, the Punjab society is well aware of the drug menace in the state. Indeed, the issue is being engaged with through theatre, literature and other forms of expression.
"It is the attitude of the Badals and the BJP that has led to the issue getting such coverage in national and even international media. Let Punjabis reject the movie if they are offended by it. But the facts are otherwise. The people are now looking forward to watching the movie," says a political observer based in Ludhiana.
Jeetendra Mauhar, a filmmaker, adds, "Everybody knows and accepts that the drug menace is rampant in Punjab. By trying to scuttle the film's release, the Akalis have only shown their desperation, and the move has turned out to be counterproductive."
Political observers point out that the Akalis have been in denial about the drug menace ever since it started spreading about a decade ago. "Sukhbir, in particular, has been quite dismissive. He has been mocking journalists asking questions about the issue, giving vague replies or coming out with statistics in an attempt to refute the facts that have been coming to light through surveys and studies," says a senior journalist who did not want to be named.
"The only time they accepted the existence of the problem was after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when a drive was carried out for some months that involved setting up rehabilitation centres, regular inspections. But that too came back to square one pretty soon. Shutting your eyes to the problem does not make it vanish."
Under a cloud
Both the Akalis and the BJP have been at the receiving end of the anger over the issue. The revelation that cabinet minister Bikram Majithia was one of the masterminds of the drug trade only made matters more difficult.
In 2013, former DSP Jagdish Singh Bhola, accused of running a massive synthetic drug racket, had confessed to funding campaigns during the 2012 assembly election, and named Majithia as the main beneficiary. Majithia is the brother of Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Union minister and Sukhbir's wife. Majithia continues to dismiss the allegations as an attempt to malign him.
The opposition, though, has spared no opportunity to target Majithia. The AAP leadership continues to publicly refer to him as "Drug Lord", despite being slapped with defamation cases.
The BJP's weak spot is an aide of its former state chief Kamal Sharma. The aide is alleged to have been involved in drug smuggling and bribery.
To make life more difficult for the ruling partners, state Congress chief Amarinder Singh has announced he would release the uncensored Udta Punjab in Majitha, Amritsar, on 17 June, when the film is scheduled to release country-wide. Why Majithia? It is, according to Amarinder, the "epicentre" of the drug trade in Punjab. Also because the name of the town has become synonymous with Chitta, the synthetic drug that has devastated an entire generation in Punjab.
Amarinder has written to the film's producers Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor, asking for CDs of the uncensored film. "Not only do we want to highlight the harsh reality of Punjab, we also want to assert the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by our Constitution, which is being infringed upon by the BJP at the behest of the Akalis, using the Censor Board," he wrote.
Amarinder has promised to handle any legal issues arising from releasing the uncensored movie. To ensure that the commercial interests of the producers are not hurt, the movie will be shown only on the day of its release in Majitha and the border areas "where people rarely get a chance to watch movies in a theatre".
Countering the attack, Sukhbir has asked his opponents to stop spreading "canards" about the state government banning the release of the film, which reportedly describes Punjab's people as "kanjar" (lowly-born) and its land as "banjar" (barren).
"For us, the film in question is one of the countless such films produced for commercial reasons in the country. Whether to allow its release or not is an issue between the producers and the Central Board of Film Certification. The government has nothing to do with it. It is for the censors to see whether the film meets or violates the fundamental principles of balance between freedom of expression on the one hand and deliberately or inadvertently blackening the face of a state, a community or a faith on the other," the deputy chief minister said.
"We are in favour of anything that lends social, psychological or thematic support to our all-out war against drugs. For all I know, the film in question may even be an attempt to correct the distorted picture of Punjab as a drug haven, painted by some opportunistic non-Punjabi persons, political parties and leaders who are using abusive language against the bravest and the most competent and patriotic people of Punjab. If so, we will welcome the movie and even support it and similar films aimed at image-correction of Punjabis," he added.
Relatedly, an interesting aspect of the Punjab's drug menace being noted by the observers is that Punjabi songs are increasingly glamourising drugs, guns and alcohol. Earlier, the songs would talk of Amlis (opium addicts) or Postis (poppy husk consumers), but over the past few years, synthetic drugs such as Chitta are being "glorified". Indeed, a simple internet search throws up scores of such songs that glorify drugs, violence and alcohol consumption. Yet, there has hardly been any effort from successive governments to check this trend.
Here are a few such songs.
Border Ni Tap Da Chitta Munda Ludhiana Uddeek Da
(This boy waits for the drug to cross the border in Ludhiana)
Chitte Utte Laa Gayi Ni Tu Put Jatt Da (The girl left the boy addicted to Chitta)
Munda Shehr Chandigarh Padhda Utton Chitte Da Shokeen Mitro
(The boy studies in Chandigarh and likes Chitta)
Batuve Vich Khan Di Afeem Rehndi Hai (Opium is in the wallet)
Muk Gayi Afeem Dabbi Cho Yaaro
(The box of opium has been emptied)
Jigare Bagair Kade Chale Na Bandook
(You need guts to fire a gun)
Tere Kar Ke Lai Liye Desi Gun (I have got a country pistol for your sake)
Ratee peeni subah pachtaunan (Drink at night, regret in the morning)
Raati Peeni Daaru Savere Nimbu Paani
(Drink alcohol at night, lemon water in the morning)
More in Catch - Clipping 'Udta Punjab' is shutting out reality, say Punjabis