New Delhi: The controversy over censoring Udta Punjab has ensured two things: it has highlighted the drug menace in Punjab; and that more people will now watch the movie, should it be released.

With assembly elections in Punjab due in nine months, the ongoing drug problem in the state has become a political issue and the two main opposition parties, Indian National Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), are trying to highlight the menace to challenge the incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) led government, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) both in the state and in the central government. The Congress and AAP have claimed that the Punjab government has been ineffective in tackling the drug menace.

The extent of the drug menace in the state can be understood from the fact that Punjab is among the top five states in the country in terms of seizures of opium and heroin in 2014. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, in 2014 556 kg of opium and 636 kg of heroin were recovered in Punjab. Sure, Punjab isn’t alone in terms of the drug menace which is a significant problem in Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Assam.

“The controversy is between the censor board and film maker and the Punjab government doesn’t want to be get involved. But the fact is that drug menace is a national problem; it cannot be seen only limited to a state. There are other states in the country which are facing a more difficult challenge when it comes to narcotics and we can only request not to show Punjab as a state where there is drug problem," said a senior leader of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While both the Punjab government and the central government say they did not ask the censors to block Udta Punjab’s release unless all mention of Punjab is removed from the movie, it is likely that the censor board was second-guessing what the National Democratic Alliance government would want it to do.

The SAD leader also seemed to suggest that the movie was politically motivated, although he was at pains to claim he wasn’t politicising the issue. Why aren’t movies being made on other states with a drug problem, he asked.

The film was originally scheduled to release on 17 June.

Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has defended his government and says it has nothing to do with the censor board’s decisions. “How can the state government be held responsible for it when Central Board for Film Certification is exclusively under the control of government of India." Punjab BJP chief and Union minister Vijay Sampla has welcomed the Censor Board’s move and said any attempt to “defame" Punjab should be dealt with severely. “Nobody should be allowed to defame Punjab...why did the producers name the movie Udta Punjab? Why not Udta Bollywood...the drug problem is a global issue. Why is one state being singled out?" he said.

“Punjab has a crippling drug problem. Censoring #UdtaPunjab will not fix it. The government must accept the reality and find solutions," Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi wrote on micro blogging site, Twitter.

“The Censor Board has acted against ‘Udta Pinjab’ at the behest of SAD-BJP-led state government. It is an attack on Freedom of speech and expression in highlighting the extent of drug problem in the state". “By indulging in such acts, the state government cannot hide the reality of Punjab by pushing the state into a drug menace during its nine-year rule," Bhagwant Mann, Lok Sabha member of AAP from Sangrur told PTI.

PTI contributed to the story.

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