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Does anyone talk about ‘Udta Bollywood’? Sukhbir Badal says ‘Udta Punjab’ a lie, drugs no issue

In an interview with ThePrint, Shiromani Akali Dal president & chief ministerial candidate Sukhbir Singh Badal blamed the media and Bollywood for portraying Punjab in a bad light.

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Faridkot: Udta Punjab, a 2016 Bollywood movie on the problem of drug addiction among the Punjabi youth, has got the goat of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the state’s principal Opposition party. In an interview with ThePrint, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal  lambasted the media and Bollywood for portraying Punjab in a bad light.

There is no problem of “chitta (adulterated form of heroin)” in Punjab, Delhi, Haryana or Goa, he said.

Udta Punjab is all created by media. Have you found any drug addict lying down on the road here? Punjab has got no chittas… Does anyone talk about chittas in Bollywood? Does anybody talk about Udta Bollywood, Udta Bombay?” Badal asked in a caustic tone.

He was responding to a question about how Punjab, which was once known for the Green Revolution, is now known for falling per capita income, agrarian stress, unemployment, and drug abuse as portrayed in Abhishek Choubey’s Udta Punjab.

The SAD president whose brother-in-law and party colleague, Bikram Singh Majithia, was booked by Punjab Police in an alleged drug trafficking case, welcomed Monday’s Supreme Court ruling granting him protection from arrest until the elections are over in Punjab.

In a stinging indictment of the Congress government in Punjab, the apex court had said that in a democracy, it must not file criminal cases against political opponents on the eve of elections.

“That’s what we have been saying that it was a political vendetta. It was an election stunt. The SC has given the right verdict. For five years, they didn’t do anything. Just one month before the election, they registered a false case so that Bikram Majithia couldn’t fight,” said Badal, the SAD’s chief ministerial face.

Also read: Three factors that are keeping Punjabi politicians on edge

Shadow of farm laws and the ‘Punjabi party’

The SC ruling has come as a boost to the SAD, which already seemed to be fighting with its back to the wall, given the year-long agitation by Punjab farmers against the three central farm laws, which were cleared by the Narendra Modi Cabinet when the Akali Dal was part of the central government.

The Badal-led party pulled out of the government and the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in protest against the laws, which were eventually repealed in November last year. But there was a question mark over its standing among farmers, primarily Jatt Sikhs, the party’s mainstay.

“It (farmers’ agitation) was a fight of the people of Punjab where even my cadre was part of the agitation. Now agitation is over and every cadre is back,” Sukhbir Badal told ThePrint, dismissing suggestions that it being a party to the central farm laws might have damaged it politically.

The SAD chief also dismissed opinion polls that predicted second or third position for the party in the coming Punjab elections.

“All surveys are paid surveys. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has a huge budget of Rs 850 crore of Delhi government, which they’re misusing. They are giving Rs 20-30 crore to each TV channel and telling them do two surveys in their favour. It’s just a money game,” alleged Sukhbir Badal.

“We’re fighting from the front. Wait and see, we have a strong base and people of Punjab trust the Akali Dal. We are the only regional party, the rest are all national parties.”

The SAD seems to be banking big time as a “Punjabi party”, founded a century ago. Badal does not see any impact of the Congress installing the state’s first Dalit CM, Charanjit Singh Channi.

Every third Punjabi is a Dalit, even though the community with syncretic culture and religious affiliations has never been a homogenous group in terms of their voting preferences. “Dalit card doesn’t make any difference. If I am a Jatt Sikh, do you think every Jatt Sikh will vote for me? People vote for the party and the person… The card is which is a Punjab party, who fights for the Punjabis. It’s the Akali Dal.”

Scope for alliance

Badal may be dismissive of the Delhi party’s (AAP’s) perceived traction on the ground because of its “Rs 850 crore media spending”, but he still doesn’t see one principal challenger to the SAD: “It’s seat by seat — some places AAP, some places Congress. But we are in No 1 place everywhere.”

As for the talks about “pro-changers” in Punjab, who may be weary of the two traditional parties — the Congress and the Akali Dal — the SAD chief thinks, “It’s the feeling in the air, not on the ground.”

Asserting that the people of Punjab should bring the Akalis back to power “because of past performance”, he promises to bring a change in education and health systems in the state. “Nobody believes in the AAP’s Delhi model because they are frauds.” Badal’s big vision for Punjab is to “get away from agriculture, and get into industries and services sector”.

The SAD chief is not convinced of the opinion polls predicting a hung assembly: “People are going to be decisive. Last time also, people said hung, but the Congress got 77″ in the 117-member assembly.

But, in case of a hung assembly, Badal is keeping his cards close to his chest. He wouldn’t entertain questions about the possibility of the SAD and the BJP coming together — an alliance that had lasted for 22 years — if need be, post-polls. “BJP is going to get zero seat, so there is no need of an alliance. We have changed our course They have changed theirs,” he said.

Yet, the SAD chief wouldn’t commit to a permanent separation with his estranged ally: “What happens 30 years from now, how can I say that? We are forming the government on our own. We will cross the bridge when it comes.”

One of the sharpest politicians in India, Sukhbir Singh Badal seems very confident, surrounded by a crowd of cadres and supporters wherever he goes on the campaign trail in Punjab. On 10 March, when the results are out, one would know whether it was a put-on or vindication of a politician who has his ears to the ground.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Amarinder Singh scaremongering about Pakistani drones dropping bombs & weapons: CM Channi


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