Where voters fret about addiction and brute force

National

In the Punjabi kolaveri, the angsty male voice sings about "ik kudi, Pinky Moge-wali". Pinky from Moga is enticing but she is not a nice girl to know. She has mast eyes and a mast smile, but wears "black jean, not clean". He longs for her when she is elusive, spurns her when she comes close. The song ends with the boy finally giving up on Pinky as he heads to the local liquor shop with his merry band. "Balle, balle/balle, balle/yaar taan theke chale".

For all its light-hearted tone, that last line of the frisky song touches a raw nerve in today's Punjab. Like Pinky's fickle suitor, too many of the state's young are heading to the local liquor or chemist shop, or the more innocuous-looking cycle repair or kirana shops that do brisk under-the-counter business in narcotics.

Bustling liquor vends have crowded out the busy milk bars that were once the characteristic feature of the Punjab highway. Now even the tagline in the advertising campaign for Verka, a Punjab government undertaking that specialises in milk and milk products, sounds more like an admonishment. "Je botal hi peeni hai, dudh di piyo". If you must imbibe, drink milk, it says.

If there was an overarching concern in this poll, an issue that resonated across the state's regions, it is Punjab's drug problem. Be it in the predominantly rural and Jat-dominated Malwa region, or in the politically volatile Majha region that runs along the border with Pakistan, or in the Doaba belt which is the NRI heartland and home to the largest concentration of Dalits in the country, it was the same despair, the same urgency.

A generation is going to waste, was the lament. Government and political parties must do something, they said. Give us jobs, de-addiction centres, or at least a sports stadium to wean the young from drugs.

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