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Drugs, politics, and cinema

On Friday, Udta Punjab was released in theatres across India after a prolonged battle with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). 

Along expected lines, the Bombay High Court had earlier this week ordered the CBFC to certify Udta Punjab within 48 hours with just one cut. The CBFC had initially sought 13 cuts to the film which included references to Punjab, expletives, and drug scenes among others. 

The apex court backed the decision on Thursday after it rejected a plea seeking a stay on the film’s release. Even the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday dismissed a petition filed against the film's release, saying there was nothing wrongful depicted in the film. It observed that the film did not show Punjab in a bad light. The film has been embroiled in a controversy since the certification board asked its producers to remove all references to Punjab except for in the title because the film. 

According to the CBFC, the film portrayed the state and its community in bad light. The Abhishek Chaubey-directed movie deals with the subject of substance abuse, which has ravaged Punjab. 
According to Punjab’s social security department’s 2004 report, more than two-thirds of the households in the state had at least one drug addict at the time. 

“Opium use has been part of Punjab’s cultural landscape since before Partition and ramped up after the Green Revolution,” say an editorial in Mint. “But the rot truly set in with the spread of synthetic drugs via cross-border flows in the 1980s, and then the narco-terrorism spike around the turn of the millennium. Heroin (Chitta) is mostly home-grown, while corruption and laxity in border security architecture provide ingress points for narcotics from Pakistan.” 

What’s worse is the links that exist between the drug trade and Punjab’s political system. Out of the 185,000kg of drugs seized by the Election Commission in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, 75 percent belonged to the state of Punjab. Despite the denials issued by the BJP and SAD, the film was subject to political interference. The CBFC's refusal to certify the film was politically motivated, given that Punjab will hold Assembly elections in February 2017. 

The opposition, primarily led by the Aam Aadmi Party, has made drug abuse in the state a major campaign issue. This has naturally shaken up the ruling Akali Dal-BJP coalition. It’s abundantly clear that the Punjab government and Centre have done little to crack down on the drug trade. If not complicit, the state government has at the very least been unable to curb the menace of drugs.
It has worsened in the past decade and there are major gaps in the availability of treatment.

 However, in its bid to clamp down on Udta Punjab, the CBFC has not only given due attention to the film but also to Punjab’s drug problem and the state government’s lack of control over the situation. If a mere movie can pose such a grave threat to the SAD-BJP combine’s possible re-election, it’s anybody guess what the anti-incumbency sentiment on the ground is like.
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