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Votes for drugs: Punjab politicians riding highs to election victory

Drug abuse 29384630 - people abusing drugs, with african american man and caucasian guy sharing the same syringe to inject heroine
Punjab is awash with allegations of politicians bribing addicts with drugs in exchange for votes

Punjab is said to be “engulfed by drugs” – an addiction epidemic some say is being exploited for political gain.

“A drug problem of alarming proportions”

The northern state accounts for half of the total number of drug related cases in the country, DNA India reported in June 2015, citing data from the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). This followed on from an earlier report which said that the state’s drug problem had reached “alarming proportions.”

Reports are now surfacing that the problem is being manipulated by politicians in the state to their own advantage around election time. A number of testimonies from drug users in the run-up to Punjab’s legislative assembly election on February 4th alleged that political candidates were bribing addicted prospective voters with the promise of drugs, as well as alcohol.

It is not new (nor is it unique to India) for politicians to take advantage of social issues such as drug addiction for the sake of political capital – but to bribe addicts with their addictions is another, far more sinister matter altogether.

“The flow of drugs is unabated”

An India Today report quotes the manager of one of the candidates as levelling the charge that “the flow of liquor, drugs and money is unabated” at election time in the state.

The use of alcohol in elections is regarded as common, albeit illicit, practice by some. India Today quotes Chief Election Commissioner S. Y. Quraishi as describing the use of alcohol to win over voters as “a menace in most states.” However, he follows this up by saying “the supply of drugs in elections is a unique problem with Punjab alone.” He says that, at the time of the 2012 election, “we recovered around 55 kilograms of heroin, around 430 kilograms of poppy husk…and found almost every psychotropic substance in circulation.”

“They give you your fix, you promise to vote for them”

This is corroborated by what the state’s drug users have come forward and said themselves. Quoted in NDTV, opium addict Rajender says

“Normally we have to go out and find a dealer, but at election time it gets delivered to your home for free….As long as they give you your fix, you promise to vote for them. You make the same promise to whoever comes along.”

The practice is “very common”, according to another addict quoted by the outlet.

Exacerbating the issue is the fact that key politicians in the state purportedly did not acknowledge the problem of drug addiction in Punjab for many years. Whilst a national spotlight has since been shone on the issue – with candidates (even Prime Minister Narendra Modi) addressing it vociferously on the campaign trail – there is little hope for an effective response to the problem as long as politicians, both prospective and incumbent, continue to profit from the epidemic.

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