Among the many larger-than-life accounts that emerge from Punjab, my personal favourite is that farmers there make giant quantities of lassi in washing machines. There is something quintessentially Punjabi in that image—generosity, joy, lavishness, satiation.
Consider this: a place that accounts for 2 per cent of India’s population produces roughly 17 per cent of its wheat, 20 per cent of its rice, and 10 per cent of its milk. Quite literally India’s food bowl. Culturally too, whether it is salwar-kameez, bhangra beat, or tandoori chicken, Punjabiat, the Punjabi way, has seamlessly spanned the land.
Yet, today what we see is a once flourishing region floundering. The Green Revolution that saw Punjab’s GSDP from agriculture rise at 5.7 per cent p.a. between 1971 and 1985, double the all-India rate, simultaneously ground farming down via policies that encouraged monoculture and high farmer loans on the one hand while draining the soil of nutrients and water on the other. Between 2005 and 2014, agricultural GSDP grew only at 1.6 per cent p.a., which, ironically, was half the all-India rate.
With agriculture under severe stress, the spin-off effects are disturbing—farmer suicides, unemployment, restive youth, and drug dependency are only some examples of a general disaffection that can be exploited by radical and polarising godmen. And there is no shortage of those, as the swift rise of Amritpal Singh proves. Only four decades ago, Bhindranwale was spawned in a similar milieu of cynical realpolitik.
Amritpal is now on the run; his arrest imminent. Are other players waiting in the wings? Does AAP have the wit to govern this troubled State? Can this border State, populated by a proud religious minority, shed its volatility to refocus on development? These are some of the questions we try to answer in this issue.
Read the issue here.