The drugs bust in Punjab – involving a moneyed narcotics dealer and a high profile boxer and his sparring partner – is a fortunate turn of events.
The tip-off was accurate, which indicates that someone in the core group of Anup Singh Kahlon, the drug dealer, was motivated enough to rat on him.
The Punjab Police followed through on the tip-off, which often doesn’t happen because they don’t want to or they don’t have the men and the skill.
From this has emerged a story that tells us a few things.
1. Bollywood is not a great influence.
Ram Singh, the sparring partner of Olympic medal winner Vijender Singh, has said that Vijender was greatly impacted by the Hindi film Rowdy Rathore and began talking of possible offers of film roles.
Vijender apparently told Ram Singh that Bollywood’s rave parties were a high point of glamour. “That’s when we decided to revive our friendship with Kahlon and asked for heroin,” Ram Singh is quoted as telling reporters.
Rowdy Rathore is a brainless frame-by-frame remake of the commercially successful Telugu potboiler Vikramarkudu with Akshay Kumar reprising the role played in Telugu by Ravi Teja.
This is how most Indians connect with Bollywood: silly films and sillier parties. Bollywood seems to distort reason and thought even in those who should know better.
2. Vijender Singh has poor emotional skills.
Vijender Singh is chronologically 27 but he may be mentally and emotionally 17. In December 2012, the International Boxing Association [or the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur, from where the acronym AIBA comes] suspended the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation on grounds of election irregularities.
According to Ram Singh, this upset Vijender. He had lost in the London Olympics and he seemed to think the suspension meant his career was over. This is not really true, but such emotional logic is often applied in moments of stress.
By a purely internal process, without seeking counsel, Vijender seems to have looked for a way to cope. Ram Singh suggests that their conversations now mentioned Kahlon and heroin.
They began to make the trip from Patiala to Zirakpur on the outskirts of Chandigarh.
3. Many Punjab sportsmen are fine with drugs
Ram Singh is not the only sportsman from Punjab in this mess. Kahlon has named Jagdish Singh Bhola, a former wrestler who was given the Arjuna Award, as the head of this drug-running group.
Bhola was stripped off the award after his name surfaced in a 2002 drugs case.
I have been told of several sportsmen from Punjab who seem to have no issues with narcotics. The narcotics cell of the Punjab Police has a long list of sportsmen from the state who are users, runners or dealers.
4. Punjabi NRIs are not doing enough
NRIs from Punjab do not engage with the issue of addiction, although some are beginning to. Most people from Punjab are keen on living in the West. Many do low-level jobs their ego would not allow them to in India.
The focus appears to be on leaving India and seeking citizenship of another country. This distances them from the mess in Punjab. Kahlon, the drug dealer in this case, is an NRI. He has a flat in Zirakpur, which is to Chandigarh what Gurgaon is to New Delhi.
The NRIs from Punjab have the money but it doesn’t seem to help. They might need to do some serious introspection soon.
5. Demand for narcotics and alcohol is very high in Punjab
Punjab is probably the worst state in terms of addiction. Almost every other youngster has used [or continues to use] narcotics and alcohol. Three of every four users are dependent on chemicals.
The supply from Afghanistan and Pakistan has been on the higher side to meet this demand. A large percentage of the drugs are moved to New Delhi and Mumbai, which puts Punjab among the busier narcotics transit point in India. But much of it is consumed in Punjab.
Kahlon and others like him feed this demand.
6. The Punjab Police does not scare drug dealers
They either buy their way out of trouble, or they make policemen partners in the trade. This is how former Narcotics Control Bureau director in Chandigarh Saji Mohan used to operate.
Mohan has been convicted of stealing heroin and selling it. His punishment is to be announced this week in court.
He used his clout as the top drug sleuth in Punjab to ask a few subordinates to help mix slaked lime in seized heroin. Pure heroin was pilfered and the shortfall made up by mixing lime. Mohan used to sell the heroin back to drug dealers.
Mohan isn’t the only dirty cop in Punjab. An honest policeman, who can put the fear of law into people, is rare.
7. The Punjab government is not in control
Punjab is a small state with uniform terrain. It poses no challenges to enforcement agencies like, say, the forests of Chhattisgarh or the deserts of Rajasthan. It wouldn’t be too difficult for the government to know exactly what goes on.
In any case, the Badals have been heading the administration for so long that ignorance can’t be an alibi. Yet, the government is virtually clueless.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal says the police can only worry about narcotics that have already come in. The border is manned by central forces, he says. In theory, this is true.
Badal doesn’t seem to get it that the people of Punjab are seriously overdoing alcohol and narcotics. The demand encourages the supply.
8. Manmohan Singh doesn’t use his Sikh origins well
A prime minister’s outlook, by the very nature of the job, needs to be pan-Indian and global. But that need not rob a person of his roots.
Manmohan Singh has never used his origins to connect with Punjab. This might have distanced him from Punjab.
All it takes, however, is a few trips to the state. Manmohan Singh could use his status to put addiction in Punjab on the table. Punjab needs him now.
9. There’s at least a ton of narcotics floating in Punjab in any given week
Kahlon was caught with 26 kilos of heroin. The average calculation is that for every kilo discovered, 10 kilos have slipped through. There are several Kahlons in Punjab.
Most of the drug dealers come from moneyed backgrounds although the carriers – the people who actually pick up the consignments and move them to different locations – tend to be from economically weaker backgrounds.
In any given week, police officials estimate that a ton of the stuff may be in the state physically. This is likely to go up.
10. Punjab needs counsellors and honest sleuths
Vijender, and others like him, need counseling as they make their way up the ladder. The state of Punjab could start by employing 100 counsellors – about five to a district.
They also need honest sleuths. Too many policemen can’t seem to draw the line between developing sources in the crime world, and being on the take.
Unless Punjab slots addiction as a core concern, the lethargy could continue. Vijender Singh is not going to sink unless he continues with heroin. With effort, he can turn around.
But Punjab and the rest of India may not have the same leeway.
Also by the author:
Rahul Gandhi and the singletons in Indian politics
To hang a man: How to read Afzal Guru's death
10 great reasons to leave India
Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.