A relentless campaign by Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party has singled out deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his brother-in-law and revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia as the chief villains in a sordid narrative of corruption and drug trafficking in Punjab.
Kejriwal's high pitched campaign has rattled both Majitha and Badal. However, they insist that their main rival is Captain Amrinder Singh of the Congress. "Kejriwal won't even get double digits,'' Majithia said in a conversation with Huffpost in Amritsar.
While Kejriwal himself may have lost steam in recent weeks after his party was engulfed in scandals of its own, his narrative has stuck. Punjab's electorate is sharply polarized into anti-Badal and pro-Badal sentiment. The outcome of the upcoming election then will be a verdict on the two brothers-in-law whose deeds (or misdeeds as it were) dominate the discourse in the state today.
The Kejriwal impact is evident from Majithia's efforts at damage control as D-day nears. After slapping a slew of defamation cases against Kejriwal and media persons who reported the AAP leader's allegations, the controversial revenue minister has embarked on a media outreach as well. With the model code of conduct expected to be enforced from December, marking the start of the countdown to polling, has Majithia left it too late to attempt an image correction?
Ironically, Majithia has taken a leaf out of Kejriwal's trademark politics by playing the victim card to wash away the mud AAP keeps throwing at him. "I'm a teetotaler, a vegetarian. I've lived a principled life. It came as a shocker to me (when I was accused of drug trafficking),'' Majithia said.
Breaking his silence for the first time since arrested former police deputy superintendent turned drug lord Jagdish Singh Bhola named him as the kingpin of the drug trade in Punjab, Majithia maintained that he is the victim of a political conspiracy hatched by sections of vested interests that are aligned with the Congress party in the state. Bhola was arrested in 2013.
"No government has ever been repeated in Punjab. The last time (when the Akali Dal returned to power for a second term in 2012) was the first time. Ever since then, from nowhere, I became the target of attack,'' Majithia insisted. The reason, according to him, was trouble within the Badal family, which led to the exit of Sukhbir's cousin Manpreet Badal from the Akali Dal to join the Congress before the 2012 election. He said the attack on him started within a year of that election.
Majithia defended his innocence with the claim that no charges have been brought against him so far because there is no evidence. Even a High Court monitored probe ordered by the previous UPA government found nothing in Bhola's allegation, he said.
Yet, there is a strong public perception that he is responsible for Punjab's burgeoning drug problem. Majithia countered this with two protestations. One, that public perception is simply media hype. "Arun Jaitley lost the election (from Amritsar) in 2014 but in my assembly constituency (which is part of the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat), he won by a huge margin. Does that not reflect people's faith in me?'' he demanded.
His second argument borders on an ostrich-like refusal to admit that there is a drug problem in Punjab. "The drug problem here is no different from any other state. The problem is there but isn't it there in other states too? No authentic study has been done with a proper sample size to prove otherwise,'' he maintained.
In fact, he went on to quote studies done by the army and the Punjab police of applicants for jobs in these two organizations. The bulk of applicants were drug-free, Majithia insisted.
All this hasn't stopped the indefatigable Kejriwal who is continuing with his campaign against Majithia despite defamation cases. "I ask you all, who is the drug dealer in Punjab?'' he said after getting bail in one such case recently. "I challenge Majithia to arrest me otherwise I will arrest him after the election. The people will take revenge from Majithia.''
Meanwhile, as the polls draw closer, the Akalis have resorted to Punjabi chauvinism to isolate Kejriwal as an outsider from Haryana.
In four months, the people of Punjab will turn in their verdict. Majithia's fate and his political future hang on it.
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