It is somewhat odd that two former party and state cabinet colleagues, Amarinder Singh and Charanjit Singh Channi, are fighting and trying to set up this Punjab election in terms of whether the state faces a rising security threat or not. Amarinder has been saying, as he did flashing several documents and data sheets in this interview with me, that the Pakistanis are dropping weapons, explosives, drugs and IEDs shaped to fit in lunch boxes through their drones.
Channi has hit back in an interview with our Political Editor D.K. Singh by ridiculing the ‘security threat’ and accusing Amarinder of having made it up to spread a scare. The reality is enormously more complex, and scary. Just that Pakistani drones are not central to it.
Punjab faces many mortal threats. Almost all of these lie within. And while for some, you might be able to blame the Centre, for most of these, the people of Punjab are themselves responsible. And unless they take a brutal hard look within, their future generations have to be resigned to continue living with this constant slide.
It is a tough thing for me to say at election time, but the state’s problems are not going to be resolved by whoever comes to power. I am sorry to sound so negative. But look at all the promises the four rival groups — Congress, AAP, Shiromani Akali Dal and Amarinder-BJP — are making.
Nobody is promising to change or challenge the lazy, self-congratulatory culture Punjab has voluntarily become prisoner to. All they are promising is freebies, more freebies. The incumbent chief minister slashes power tariffs and tears and burns the bills in public.
As if this mass assassination of all principles of public finance is not bad enough, Aam Aadmi Party is promising a dole of a thousand rupees a month to each woman. Now, you may or may not support the ideas of doles. But, see it another way.
Here is a state which is still imprinted on our country’s collective memory as the richest, among the happier, most robust in the country, one that employs millions of migratory labourers, the so-called ‘bhaiyya’ on its lush fields, makes the largest contribution to the nation’s rice and wheat surplus stores. How come it still has these tens of millions of women a leading political challenger like AAP believes it can entice with just Rs 1,000 a month? Rs 1,000 is the kind of money an average ‘bhaiyya’ would make for just about three days of work in Punjab. How does this all add up?
That Punjab is the richest state in India is a story out of date by about 20 years. In the years since, it has now slipped to, hold your breath, 15th among full-fledged states.
In fact, 19th if you also add union territories. Big states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Telangana and Gujarat are all way ahead of it. In fact, if you go purely by the parameter of nominal per capita income, even Arunachal Pradesh beats it. At number 19, Punjab is the last in the list of states above the national per capita income average.
West Bengal brings up the lagging half, at number 20, just below Punjab. And who knows, it might some day catch up with Punjab. How unflattering it would be for the Punjabi ego, and how shattering for our old stereotypes to be told that Punjabis are poorer than “Madrasis and Bengalis”. I borrow those words from the general native usage in Punjab.
How did Punjab end up like this? As other progressive agricultural states, Madhya Pradesh in particular, learnt modern farming and ran up the ladder (the state now contributes more wheat to the national pool than any other), Punjab stagnated. The spectacle they built around Delhi during the farm protests was vibrant, colourful and heady. But one reason so many landowners among them could be there is that they had bhaiyyas minding their fields back home. And their adult children were, meanwhile, busying themselves putting together desperate jugaad to escape overseas, mostly illegally and rarely with committed employment. It’s a quaint phenomenon. I import millions of migrant labourers from the Hindi heartland to work my fields. Meanwhile, my children are all running hell for leather to Canada and often as illegals via Europe.
I call your attention to two things. The first is this story by our young reporter Shubhangi Misra. She documented this incredible tale of reverse gender victimisation, although I am not sure the enormous Punjabi ego would survive that description. It is the tragedy of Punjabi, mostly Sikh, husbands abandoned by their wives. And yes, you heard that right. Add this as a new Punjabi phenomenon to the stereotypes, from lassi, makki-ki-roti and saag, leg, peg, tittar (partridge), kukkad (chicken) that you’ve been fed all this while.
Now I’d suggest you go to Amazon Prime and watch a full-length Punjabi feature film titled Jatt Versus IELTS. This IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is a very basic examination of English reading, writing and speaking that is the first requirement for a visa to Canada and other such dream destinations. Every year, lakhs of young Punjabis take this exam, and most flunk. In the film, the hero who does nothing except show off on his daddy’s motorbike, routinely orders his mother to fetch him a glass of water, often gets drunk and has only one dream: To crack IELTS and reach Canada so, as his true-believing mother puts it, her son will ‘play in dollars’. It is just that in this battle of Jatt-versus-IELTS, the acronym keeps winning.
Finally, desperate parents find for their wastrel son a bride who’s already cracked IELTS. That’s the sole qualification. And in any case, the dude isn’t interested in her, not even on his ‘suhaag raat’. He just wants her to go to Canada, and call him on a spouse visa. She goes there for sure, and forgets all about the waiting husband. That is the abandoned husband we are talking about. Punjab now has so many of them that associations are being formed to fight for their rights, lawyers and policemen are thinking up contracts with liabilities, just in case the wife does not call in the husband. And all this while we thought it was husbands who abandoned wives.
The film has a significant twist in the end and a ‘virtuous’ one, but not in the manner the woke you might have imagined. Watch it.
It is this hopelessness, loss of self-esteem, the overwhelming escape to the culture of intoxicants, ‘good living’, and emigrating as unskilled illegals that endangers Punjab. People here are not starving for food. They have more than enough to feed themselves, and you, if you walked in as a guest. They do not have employment, or the culture of entrepreneurship, any more.
Finally, check out on YouTube this DeutscheWelle documentary ‘Portugal—Modern Slavery for an EU Passport’. You will find so many Punjabis trafficked in after paying a bomb to the ‘agents’, or on tourist visas, for which they paid up to 15,000 Euros. They earn slave wages, live in slave dormitories, toil endless hours planting, watering or plucking raspberries and other such fruit, for which Portuguese labour is too expensive. They do it because after seven years, you get a Portuguese passport. The Punjabis can work very, very hard too, and as migratory labourers, just like the bhaiyyas they employ back home. Just that unlike most of them there, the bhaiyyas are not illegally in Punjab.
Source: The Print