In 1975, my earliest childhood memory of the state of Punjab is of being perilously perched on a horse driven carriage (tonga), and racing through waving green wheat fields on a wintery yet sunny afternoon, clinging to my mother, as she spoke of Punjab being the richest state of India. She pointed to sighing power cables, gushing tube-wells, and babbling narrow canals that passed by, helping me understand how the denizen of Punjab was pioneering the nation building process. There are images of tractors rudely woken up from sleep at 0430 hours while I lay shivering on my cot, and the house bustling with women getting ready for the day … the hardworking Sikh community was not a cliché then!
However in the last 40 years, I have seen a rapid decline if not a complete destruction of perhaps one of the most vibrant lands in the sub-continent. There can be no excuses that can be lamented upon any more – terrorism and Khalistan are no longer relevant to the youth today; 1971 wars and border instability are of no consequence. It is just that the state is administered and ruled by a megalomaniac and his ugly family that is driven mad by greed and stupidity.
Everywhere I go, I hear old men and women speak of how a majority of the youth community is driven to despair and drugs. Unskilled and angry, the youth coming from ‘richer’ families prefer unleashing the violence of feudal patriarchies – and the land is torn with violence towards women, towards children, and towards the old. Schools are replete with illiterates as no exams are held till class VIII – teachers are hiding or in absentia.
The rich farmers (read a part of the political cohort) are given free electricity – their vast lands are tilled by migrant labor from surrounding states – their younger generations seem to be obsessed with American capitalism, objectifying white blondes, and easy living. Scores of these migrate to other countries picking up low skilled jobs, leaving legacies, pregnant single women, battered children and fallow land behind.
Badal (the autocratic patriarch) and his cohort of ministers compete to display intensely moronic behaviors by designing grotesque policies – one such policy was to impose VAT on finished goods lying in factories till many petitioned the courts. Industry can never take off for there isn’t skilled and aspiring labor any more. Of course the funniest sights was that after Badal returned from Dubai to Punjab to hold a convention inviting industrialists from India to invest into Punjab, he also imported thousands of palm trees from Dubai – it seems that he wanted to create another Dubai. Two months later, these thousands of palms have wilted and died – a testimony to the foolishness.
Badal is the richest and most corrupt man in the recent history – owning lands across countries, he and Majitha have been peddling drugs and minting tons of money. The impact of drugs and liquor cannot be understated here. As one of my uncles stated yesterday – the sheer volume of liquor outlets (tantalizingly branded as taverns) are only outnumbered by the number of Gurudwaras that seem to have emerged out of nowhere – blaring inanities and religious fanaticism on every street.
The propaganda of Progressive Punjab is not even laughable – it is saddening and terrifying – I have seen a land self-destruct in 40 years, a community fragmented and destroyed by self sabotage and greed. If historians equate Badal and Company with Nero – they would be wrong, Badal would not know what a violin is!