‘Udta Punjab’ debate: Gulzar’s ‘Maachis’ did sway voters in 1990s

New Delhi: The drug menace could turn out to be a major election issue in Punjab, that goes to the polls early next year, and the swirling controversy over the film “Udta Punjab” is an indication.

Even as film makers and political circles debate on the alleged “political motives” behind making such a movie and how it can influence the political outcome in elections, old timers in the state and those in the know recall that the film “Maachis” by noted filmmaker Gulzar did influence voters’ minds in 1990s.

“One is not sure how much ‘Udta Punjab’ will decide the political course in Punjab but film ‘Maachis’ released in 1996 did spark off political debate on police excesses and circumstances surrounding the rise of Sikh militancy in Punjab,” Chandigarh-based journalist Gajinder Kumar told IANS.

Picking up as many as 75 seats in the 117-member state assembly, Shiromani Akali Dal of Parkash Singh Badal had stormed to power in the state ousting the Congress in the 1997 assembly elections.

The film ‘Maachis’ actually portrayed a story in which an innocent village boy next-door is transformed into a terrorist after police ill treats his friend for no reason and frames the innocent youth in the name of police investigation and interrogation.

With stars like Om Puri, Tabu and Chandrachur Singh, among others, the film ‘Maachis’ earned critical appreciation and also commercial success.

Interestingly, in 1970s, the film “Aandhi”, starring noted actors Suchitra Sen and Sanjeev Kumar, had run into controversy.

In recent past, too, films like “Dev” by Govind Nihlani and “Bombay” by Mani Ratnam were influenced by politics of the day.

However, Punjab watchers say the tables seem to have turned this time against the Akali leadership as they have been in power for the last 10 years, during which the drug menace spread its tentacles in the state.

Worse for the Akali leadership and especially for the Badal family, those close to the family have been also at the receiving end of allegations for involvement in the drug business in the state.

In 2014, the then Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, brother-in-law of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, was accused of involvement in the multi-crore drug trafficking racket by an arrested cop Jagdish Singh Bhola.

In fact, officials in the intelligence agencies and the Union Home Ministry admit that in Punjab, drug abuse is not just a social menace but has emerged as a major money spinner during the last few years.

The political row over the film ‘Udta Punjab’ is no surprise as the political class has been well aware of the issue.

In fact, in March this year, seeking to take the battle to the Akali-BJP combine in Punjab, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi had said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Akali Dal should have listened when people were complaining about drug problem in Punjab, but they always ignored it, saying that there is no such problem.”

“Punjab has a crippling drug problem. Censoring #UdtaPunjab will not fix it. The government must accept the reality and find solutions,” Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet this week after the controversy broke.

Even Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders like Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have more than once admitted that the drug menace is a reality in Punjab.

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party (AAP), which is keen to give a tough fight in Punjab polls, has also blasted the Akali-BJP government on drug smuggling.

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal launched a scathing attack on the Punjab Congress and Akali Dal alleging that both the parties have “ruined” every household there through “corruption” and “drugs”.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, in 2014, 556 kg of opium and 636 kg of heroin were recovered in Punjab.

But the Akali leadership maintains that even other states have the problem.

The drug business has assumed an ominous spectre over the decades even in states like Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Manipur and Assam.