The Daily Fix: ‘Die or protest’

The Punjab government’s decision to recommend the death penalty for drug smugglers is nothing but lip service, a hasty attempt to change the mood in a state that has seen 23 deaths from narcotics-related causes in the last month alone. At special meeting of the Cabinet on Monday, it resolved to send a formal recommendation to the Union government regarding capital punishment for drug traffickers, with the Cabinet also deciding to set up a special working group to monitor action against the drug menace in the state.

The special Cabinet meeting was called after politicians from the ruling Congress party realised that public anger was building, prompted to a large extent by viral videos. One showed a young man dying of an overdose and another depicts a couple begging for help for their addict son. These videos, and the recent deaths, prompted a campaign with the slogan “maro ja virodh karo”, die or protest, and elicited support from both the Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal against the Congress, which came to power promising to rid the state of its drug problem.

However, the decision to recommend is entirely aimed at quelling public protests and will have little real impact. Existing laws already allow for courts to hand out a death sentence to drug smugglers if they are convicted of a second offence. But this is hardly the matter because cases against culprits rarely reach the conviction stage. The drug menace thrives in part because of political and police networks. The government will have to do much more to dismantle these if it actually wants to make a difference.

“There is a death penalty for rape also. Has it deterred the rapists?” Ranvinder Singh Sandhu, a sociology professor who has studied the issue, told the Tribune. “Moreover, it takes years for a case to be decided and often the influential finds a way out. The state needs to crack down on drug lords not petty smugglers.” Others emphasised the need to deter the potential for addiction in the first place, especially providing better education and employment opportunities for youngsters.

In Punjab’s state election last year, the Congress came to power promising to eradicate the drug menace immediately. In part because of a spirited campaign by the Aam Aadmi Party, the entire election seemed to hinge on the question of what would be done about drugs, with accusations being leveled at influential members of the Shiromani Akali Dal, which was in government at the time. Yet little has been done on that front, by most accounts. The fact that politicians being pressured by a public campaign against drugs is in some ways a positive sign, since it suggests that there is the popular will to combat a difficult menace. But it should not have come to that in the first place. Punjab deserves better than lip-service efforts like the death penalty.


  1. “Unless Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are marginalised in the party, it will not be able to rejuvenate itself,” says Mohammed Ayoob in the Hindu. “There is no lack of intellectual acumen and political talent in the party but those possessing such attributes are normally sidelined for fear that they may challenge the dynasty. By holding on to the dynasty the Congress is digging itself into an ever wider hole and providing Mr. Modi and the BJP the space to subvert the foundations of India’s secular democracy.”
  2. “Sensing the weakening of BJP in recent bypolls – and wooed by the opposition – BJP’s partners, in general, will prefer to drive a hard bargain with the saffron party, rather than leave it for uncertain waters on the other side,” writes Neerja Chowdhury in the Times of India. “This is something that Congress and other opposition parties will have to factor into their 2019 strategy.”
  3. “Successive US administrations have understood that the economic differences between us – and I’ll fully agree that any US official would like to see the Indian market become more open – cannot be resolved easily or quickly,” writes Alyssa Ayres in the Hindustan Times. “But these issues did not become a litmus test for the larger relationship. Nor did they prevent further cooperation. In the Trump foreign policy, in sharp contrast, one can never be sure. And that’s precisely the worry.”
  4. In a city with the most noxious air quality in the world, one would have thought that planners and politicians would strain every nerve and sinew to curb new development that adversely impacts Delhi’s air,” writes Pradip Krishen in the Indian Express. “In such a scenario, the numbers game is academic. It’s just as deplorable whether 11,000 or 16,000 trees are being chopped down.”


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Mustansir Dalvi writes about the new UNESCO tag for a group of South Mumbai buildings that serves as a reminder of how heritage is not just for the museum.

“For too long has the issue of heritage and implementable heritage legislation been restricted only to specific buildings. All buildings should be seen with their own settings, and groups of these have a combined worth, of being much greater that a sum of their parts. In the past, this has led to the effective conservation of Imperial buildings, but buildings that came up outside of the colonial gaze, like the Art Deco buildings, have been sidelined. Now with effective guidelines following the UNESCO tag we can hope to see city neighborhoods as having an urban value in themselves. Only then will our memories of the city sustain.”