The recent high-profile killing of rapper Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, widely known by his stage name Sidhu Moosewal, points to the rise of gangsters in Punjab which shares a 553-km long international border, from where drone-drop of explosives and drugs by Pakistan-based terror outfits is on the rise.
Officials familiar with the development believe the use of drones is Pakistan ISI’s game plan to carry out terror attacks across the country rather than reviving the full-fledged Khalistan movement in Punjab at this point in time.
The just concluded year-long farmers’ protests and the last month’s rocket-propelled grenade attack on Punjab Police’s intelligence headquarters building could be a platform for a handful Sikh separatists settled abroad to fight an “existential battle”.
“The sensational killing of Moosewala now and Youth Akali Dal leader, Vikramjit Singh, aka Vicky Middukhera, last year could be linked to the avenge killing by hiring gangsters or to an act of gang war retaliation. This could be seen more in the context of an upsurge in gang related crime, rather than in the backdrop of attempts to revive pro-Khalistan activities,” a senior official, who is part of investigating team of the recent killings and terror attacks, told IANS, requesting anonymity.
He is categorically clear in saying the organised gangs and criminals have no Khalistani ideology as most of them are non-Sikhs and belong to areas bordering Punjab’s Malwa region.
The border states of Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan had not seen a decade-long insurgency when it was at its peak in Punjab in the 1980s that claimed more than 20,000 lives.
Now with political patronage, the gangsters are making money under the garb of terrorism, the official said, adding that the area of concern is most of them are organised gangs and are in touch with terror modules for procuring weapons from across the border.
Prior to killings of Moosewala and Middukhera, the killing of an international kabbadi player in Nakodar and incidents of sacrilege and drug trafficking in Punjab are largely linked to the upsurge of gangster culture in the state.
However, highly placed intelligence officials admit pro-Khalistan sympathisers, largely settled in Germany, France, Australia, the UK, Canada and the US, have been running ‘whisper’ campaigns with the intention to disturb the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.
They are raising funds for hiring gangsters even from outside the state for contract killing or illegal activities, a dangerous trend, said a senior official.
As per Director General of Police V.K. Bhawra, the grenade attack on police’s intelligence headquarters was carried out with the involvement of gangsters from outside the state hired by Canada-based Lakhbir Landa on the directions of Khalistani terrorist Harvinder Singh Rinda, who is believed to be in Pakistan.
The DGP recently said there have been recent reports about rise in gangster-related murders in the state but the fact is it has marginally decreased in comparison to last two years.
According to him, the crime data indicates that 158 murders have taken place in the state during the first 100 days of this year, making an average of 50 murders per month, while in previous years, the number of murders was 724 and 757 in 2021 and 2020, respectively, making the monthly average of murders for 2021 and 2020 as 60 and 65 murders respectively.
He said six gangster-related murders witnessed in the state till April 11, all of which have been traced after a thorough investigation on professional lines and 24 accused involved in these cases have been arrested along with a recovery of seven pistols, 18 cartridges and seven vehicles.
There is a sordid tale of jails in Punjab, the dens of gangsters.
The 2016 Nabha jailbreak in which gangsters freed six hardcore prisoners showed “lawlessness”.
Officials cite seizure of lethal weapons and mobile phones from jail premises, indicating the rot in prison management.
As per official data, during the special drive from March 16 to May 10 a total of 710 mobile phones have been recovered from jail inmates.
Police officials say with the increasing footprint of Punjab-based gangsters in off-shore, the central government should press for their extradition.
Also in the murder of Moosewala, Goldy Brar, who is based in Canada, has claimed the responsibility on behalf of the Lawrence Bishnoi gang.
Admitting that Moosewala had a huge following in Canada, Gurpreet Singh, a newscast and talk show host at Spice Radio in Vancouver, told IANS over phone that the massive coverage of the news of his death in the mainstream newspapers here clearly indicates that.
“However, there are those who have been critical of his songs allegedly promoting gun culture. That was the reason why one of his events was cancelled in Surrey.”
Responding to the reports about a Canada-based gangster taking responsibility of his murder, he said it needs to be jointly investigated by the Canadian and the Indian police.
“As per the procedure, the request for that has to come from Punjab Police under whose jurisdiction the crime occurred. Until then, it is hard to corroborate any such claim which has no legal value,” freelance journalist Gurpreet Singh said.
Also it is wrong to presume that Canada has become some sort of safe refuge for international gangsters when Canadian police itself is grappling with domestic gang violence, he said.
It is a separate matter that the Indo-Canadian gangs have been active in this country for more than two decades now. But most of those involved are the Canadian born kids of Indian heritage through their parents, he added.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)