The many problems with Captain Amarinder Singh’s ‘war on drugs’

There are apprehensions that the CM is cut off from ground realities, and also that the ‘big fish’ will go scot-free.

 |  4-minute read |   07-07-2018
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Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has been in the saddle for 15 months now, and even his own party colleagues and legislators agree in private that his government’s performance has been far below expectations.

While he was accused of inaccessibility and having a coterie in his previous stint too, his grip over the administration as well as the cabinet, and ability to take quick decisions, covered up for his shortcomings.

The war on drugs

In his current tenure, Amarinder Singh has been a pale shadow of his former self. In the past few days, a number of important decisions have been taken in the context of the war on drugs. Seeing the rise in deaths (June alone saw 25 deaths) in the state as a consequence of the drug problem, Singh on July 2 recommended capital punishment for all drug peddlers.

In his current tenure, Amarinder Singh has been a pale shadow of his former self.In his current tenure, Amarinder Singh has been a pale shadow of his former self.

In a tweet, the Punjab CM stated: “My govt has decided to recommend death penalty for drug peddling/smuggling. The recommendation is being forwarded to the Union government. Since drug peddling is destroying entire generations, it deserves exemplary punishment. I stand by my commitment for a drug-free Punjab’ 

In a letter to the Home Minister, the Punjab CM, while batting for the death penalty, stated: “a harsher penalty for even first-time offenders in drug peddling could be a deterrent to those indulging in this illegal activity.”

He also mentioned steps taken by his government, including the arrest of over 18,000 drug peddlers in the state, as well as the treatment of addicts.

Days later, it was decided to conduct dope tests of government employees, including police personnel, from the time they join service through their progression at every stage.

Obstacles

While these policy decisions merit a separate discussion, there is a degree of skepticism over the whole “war on drugs” waged by this government.

First, Captain Amarinder is accused by many of his party men of being soft on the Badals. This is cited as one of the reasons (by both AAP and Congress leaders) why no action is being taken against top Akali leaders. 

Navjot Singh Sidhu, local government minister, not known to get along with former minister Bikramjit Singh Majithia, has in fact asked for stern action against Majithia, citing a  report submitted by IPS Officer Harpreet Sidhu who was handpicked to head the Anti-drug special task force (STF).

Second, the chief minister is insulated from MLAs and ministers, and is excessively dependent upon a section of the bureaucracy. This has meant that he is not in sync with the growing resentment not just within the citizenry of the state, but also among his own party men.

The inability to take action against key culprits, after the CM had committed to eradicating drugs within four weeks of taking over (after being sworn in as Chief of the Punjab Congress in 2015, Amarinder Singh had taken an oath on a Gutka/holy book), has led to criticism of the CM.

Third, the nexus between police officers, drug peddlers and even politicians is far deeper than most people think. 

June alone saw 25 drugs-related deaths in Punjab. June alone saw 25 drugs-related deaths in Punjab.

Fourth, with a growing perception that the current government has failed to curb the drug menace, there will now be pressure to come up with policies, some of which may be extremely counter-productive and cut-off from ground realities. Recent measures have already been dubbed farcical by many observers of the state’s polity.

Conclusion

While these recent announcements may help in grabbing eyeballs and may please a section of activists, another key question is will the police be fair in catching “drug peddlers” (Punjab police is notorious for its high handedness), and will the “big fish” – such as high-level officers and politicians – be caught. 

A large number of police officers for instance, are believed to be involved in drug smuggling. While the CM has refused to order enquiries against senior officers, prompting the Opposition to accuse him of “shielding’ them, he has ordered an enquiry against the SSP of Moga, Kanwaljit Singh Dhillon. 

Also, the effectiveness of death penalty in dealing with this problem is suspect – there are high chances of this being misused, and it could lead to a blood bath. Misuse of such provisions is not restricted to India. 

In his previous tenure, Captain Amarinder Singh was far more inexperienced, but his focus on key governance issues had endeared him to the masses and also resulted in him taking some tough decisions.

The nexus which exists between politicians-police and drug peddlers requires political will and strong convictions, more than dramatic announcements.

Also read: Why Punjab CM Amarinder Singh wants death penalty for drug peddlers

Writer

Tridivesh Singh Maini Tridivesh Singh Maini @tridiveshsingh

The writer is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat.

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