At Bhundri village in Sidhwan Bet block, a hoarding of Akali MLA Manpreet Singh Ayali tells us that we’re in Dakha constituency.
On the roadside, a man sits outside his workshop. He’s Jora Singh. “We’re Congress supporters,” he tells us, lifting his eyes momentarily from the newspaper he’s reading. “Par eh gall taan hai ki Ayali ney kamm karvaayaa haigaa Dakhe ’ch (Ayali did get development projects completed).”
We drive towards the interior of the village. A group of women is collecting firewood. They giggle and talk animatedly. They’re not bothered about their rambling conversation, as long as my colleague doesn’t click their photos and we don’t ask them their names.
“Nasha taan bahut hai pind ’ch. Das rupay vich tallee ho jande ne…. Jay sadde ghar de bande kamm karde, assi eh kujh kathha karde? (Drugs are common in the village. Men get ‘high’ by spending as little as Rs 10… had they been working, we wouldn’t have been here).”
Driving on, we notice that there is virtually no traffic on the village roads. We stop to ask directions from three youngsters on a bike. They are far from sober, yet their sense of direction remains intact.
We spot another group of women, carrying a small bundle of firewood. They throw a packet in the field along the road. The bike-borne boys come back, pick it up and drive away. Our taxi driver offers an explanation: “It’s the packet, Madam. Drugs have made inroads into the lives of the youth.”
As we reach the outskirts of another village, we confirm its name from a man standing near a house. It’s Kul Gehna. The village hit the headlines in May when several deaths linked to chitta [opium] were reported.
The elections are approaching. What’s the scene here, we ask. “I’ve been in jail for 18 years. Those I knew as kids are young men now. They don’t even recognise me,” the man says in a flat, emotionless tone. He informs us that he was behind bars for a drug-related offence. He calls a woman from inside the house.
“Drugs are common here. Almost every household has members who not only take drugs but are also involved in trafficking.” She continues: “Seen the houses here? How can anyone with no known source of income build a house and flaunt a rich collection of gold?”
She says women are also involved in drug trafficking. “Even girls are into it,” adds the man. The woman gives him a reproachful look. “Girls act as carriers,” she clarifies. She requests us not to share this information with other villagers as it may lead to dushmani. But she’s ready to accompany us to other houses in the village.
A boy in his 20s, apparently under the influence of drugs, thinks we’re in the village for poll campaigning. “We’ll help you with canvassing,” he volunteers. We tell him that we’re from akhbaar (print media).
A few minutes’ drive takes us to a filthy village pond. People living nearby complain that it emits a putrid smell. Have they heard of the “pond renovation project”, which Ayali undertook when he was the chairman of the Ludhiana Zila Parishad? They have no idea.
In less than half an hour, we’re in Mullanpur Dakha. Posters about the “achievements” of the Akali Dal and its legislator are seen in the town. “We’re happy with development.
But drugs… we can only pray to the Almighty that our children are saved from their clutches… The leaders should stop shielding their own men who are into drug trafficking.” This is the observation of a septuagenarian farmer, Santokh Singh.
“Development in the constituency is selective. The villages where the sarpanch owes allegiance to the Congress are ignored; what’s worse, the villagers are victimised,” alleges a senior citizen from Ranguwal village.
The two ‘Ds’, development and drugs, dominate the discourse. While coming back to Ludhiana city, we click pictures of a high-tech multipurpose sports park in the constituency. Such a park is still a distant dream for the urban Assembly seats of Ludhiana!