The latest Bollywood blockbuster to speak of Punjab (Udta Punjab) is the horrific account of the youth of the state doing drugs. Meanwhile, two superstar films hitting the big screen with tales of the rural heartland of Haryana, are Sultan and Dangal. Riding on Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, the two mega-flicks bring to the fore stories of the youth of Haryana, muscling their way into sporting glory.
Desperate efforts were made to scuttle a big budget film like Udta Punjab, because it spoke the awful truth of the state. Meanwhile, the youth of Haryana, charged with the glamour of being celebrities, are rewriting their destinies.
This is the social and political reality of the two agrarian north Indian states today. Nobody expects the Punjab drug story to change anytime soon. This crisis has hugely empowered the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is now trying to bulldoze its way into the power corridors of the Punjab Secretariat in Chandigarh.
Haryana, meanwhile, keeps its focus squarely on sports, and has consistently punched much above its weight. Following the Commonwealth Games of 2010, that if Haryana were a country, it would be fifth on the gold medal winners’ tally, after Australia, England, Canada.
Fifteen of India’s 38 gold medals at the Commonwealth Games — nearly 40 per cent of the country’s best-ever haul — were won by athletes from Haryana. The state continued its supremacy over Indian sports in the 2012 London Olympics. Out of the six medals won by India in the London Olympics, four were bagged by players associated with Haryana.
Assembly elections in Punjab are due early next year. Youth power is one of the major routes that AAP wants to take to chart its victory path in the state. Along with promises for better opportunities for education, AAP is out to storm sports turf in the northern state to wrestle political power from arch rivals Congress and SAD-BJP.
Unveiling the party’s Youth Manifesto on July 3, AAP supremo promised the Punjab Olympic Mission to encourage and empower Punjab sportspersons to win medals for the state. The party’s ‘Youth Manifesto’ also provides for a sports university & three additional sports colleges to encourage sport among Punjab’s youth. It promises the highest prize money of all states for achievement in sports. The prize for an Olympic gold medal – Rs 5 crore!
Despite drug abuse tearing through the Punjabi pride, physical strength and valour continues to run through the state’s DNA. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) has failed to animate Punjab sports at grassroot level. This is where has sensed a huge opportunity. AAP has promised to launch ‘Khedo Punjab’, a mass movement in sports, if voted to power in the 2017 Assembly elections.
Among the sports initiatives promised by AAP is the decision to identify and adopt 500 talented sportspersons, whose training, diet and fitness will be provided free by the state. There is dire need to give the youth story of Punjab a bright turn.
Last year, the Union Sports Ministry had drawn up an ambitious Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme for the Rio Olympics in August 2016. As part of the TOP scheme, star sportspersons from all over the country were allocated funds for enhanced fitness and training for the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza.
Here too, Haryana had emerged as India’s medal factory.
State-wise, Haryana continued its run as the sporting powerhouse of the country, with 16 athletes listed as beneficiaries under the TOP scheme in the first two lists. Most of them were wrestlers and boxers. Star grappler Sushil Kumar led the pack, which also had Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang Kumar, Amit Kumar and the Phogat sisters — Vinesh and Babita — in it.
Among the pugilists, Vijender Singh, Mandeep Jangra, Sumit Sangwan, Vikas Krishan and Pinki Jangra were the beneficiaries under the scheme. Later Vijender Singh, India’s most celebrated pugilist, was dropped from the list of beneficiaries under TOP because he had bid goodbye to amateur boxing and turned professional.
Discus thrower Seema Antil and marathon man Sandeep Kumar also benefitted from TOPS. Shooters Sanjeev Rajput, Shweta Chaudhary and Anisa Sayyed were the other Haryana athletes under the sports ministry’s pioneer project.
By comparison, Punjab’s tally was nearly half of what Haryana has scored among the TOP beneficiaries.
In the first two lists, Punjab had only nine Rio hopefuls under the TOP scheme. Its maximum representation was in the field of athletics. Triple jumper Arpinder Singh, shot putter Inderjeet Singh, marathon runner Khushbir Kaur, relay runner Mandeep Kaur and discus thrower Navjeet Kaur Dhillon are Punjab’s flag-bearers under the scheme.
Youth power will play a key role in the Assembly elections in Punjab in 2017. AAP plans to go ballistic with its various campaigns to draw the youth to its fold.
In the 2014 Parliamentary polls, Punjab had close to 4.7 lakh voters in the 18-19 age group. The party had emerged as the giant killer in Punjab, by wresting four of the thirteen Parliamentary seats.
In its debut foray into Punjab, AAP left the ruling SAD-BJP alliance with six seats, and pushed the Congress tally down to only three seats in the Lok Sabha elections, AAP now hopes to build a ‘Nava Punjab’ (new Punjab), energized by the youth and the aspiring middle class of the state.
That will definitely be a whole new flight, and a much-needed shift from Udta Punjab.