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Political murders keep Punjab on the edge

Motorcycle­borne assailants have claimed nine lives in two years but the state police, even the CBI, are still clueless about who is behind the deaths that have increased communal tension in the state and left citizens fearful.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2017 11:45 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Amit Sharma, district president of Shri Hindu Takht, was shot by assailants in Ludhiana on January 14 this year.
Amit Sharma, district president of Shri Hindu Takht, was shot by assailants in Ludhiana on January 14 this year.(HT File Photo)

Nine murders of right-wing, religious leaders in two years have put Punjab in a quandary as the cases remain unsolved despite the strong connection, a similar modus operandi — bike-borne assailants shooting from close range.

Besides the fact that the victims were soft targets, investigations by the state police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have hit a dead end. One of the cases pertaining to the killing of a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader, Ravinder Gosain, has now been handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Police are hinting at connections to hardline elements working from foreign soil although nothing substantial has been established with the killings.

It all began in January last year. RSS leader Naresh Kumar was returning from a ‘shakha’ (local meeting) when he was shot at by two bike-borne assailants in Ludhiana. Kumar dodged and escaped with minor injuries.

In April that year, Namdhari sect matriarch, Chand Kaur, and Punjab Shiv Sena’s labour wing chief, Durga Prasad Gupta, were gunned down in Bhani Sahib and Khanna, close to Ludhiana.

Another RSS leader, Brigadier (retd) Jagdish Gagneja’s killing in a similar manner in Jalandhar in August raised eyebrows.

After a lull, the killings resumed this year.

A Hindu outfit’s publicity manager, Amit Sharma, Dera Sacha Sauda follower Satpal Sharma,70, and his son Ramesh, 40, Christian pastor Sultan Masih, RSS leader Ravinder Gosain, and another Hindu outfit leader in Amritsar, Vipan Sharma, were killed in a similar fashion till October, with the last two happening last month.

Of the nine killings, seven have been committed in Ludhiana.

Barring one case, the culprits in the others were two bike-borne men who fled immediately after shooting the victim from close range, leaving little chance for people nearby to react.

Hindu Sangharsh Sena district president Vipan Sharma was shot in broad daylight in Amritsar on October 30. Though the incident was captured on camera, like in some other cases, the culprits are still at large.

Police have also found that a .9mm bore pistol was used in all the crimes but the killers have not left any other clues behind.

The selection of targets in these killings has remained a mystery to the cops. “They pick soft targets, especially those whom nobody will think of attacking,” admitted an ADGP-rank officer.

Gosain’s son, Deepak, 30, termed the killings as terrorism.

“Our family is not able to understand why my father was killed as he was neither involved in any direct or indirect tussle with any religious groups nor had he uttered a word against any group. How can somebody be killed just for symbolism?” he wondered.

Police have also been unable to crack a bomb blast case that killed a dozen people in Maur in Bathinda on the eve of the assembly elections in January this year.

They have interrogated more than 100 people, including some gangsters and contract killers, but have not got any evidence.

Although outfits such as the RSS, Shiv Sena and Dera Sacha Sauda do not pose any threats, they are rivals to Sikh hardline groups, especially as their base has been rising in the last few years.

Police are hinting at extremist elements trying to create communal tension in the state, with support from abroad.

DGP Suresh Arora said these people “don’t want to see Punjab peaceful. They just want communal tension in the state”.

Over the past year, police have busted over 10 Khalistani modules and arrested nearly 50 persons on charges of trying to revive Khalistani militancy and planning attacks in various parts of the state.

However, those arrested have been found to be new recruits, wooed through social media and internet by people based in Canada and Germany.

Recently, a song has also appeared on social media in which an unknown extremist group has claimed responsibility for the killings and has said it would continue to carry out attacks.

Police, however, do not have any substantial evidence to connect extremism with the killings.

For the common man, the news of the killings and the revival of Khalistani militancy has created a sense of fear.

“People of Punjab have not forgotten the dark era of militancy. These killings are again creating fear among the common masses,” said Gurbir Singh, a Ludhiana resident.

BJP’s Punjab unit president and Union minister of state, Vijay Sampla, reiterated the thought. “These killings have left every Punjab resident worried. Nobody is feeling safe.”

Murders that rocked the state
2016
JAN 18 RSS leader Naresh Kumar suffers minor injuries after being shot at in Shahidi park of Kidwai Nagar, Ludhiana
APRIL 3 Namdhari sect matriarch and its late head Satguru Jagjit Singh’s wife, Mata Chand Kaur, shot dead at Bhaini Sahib Gurdwara complex, 30km from Ludhiana
APRIL 23 Shiv Sena leader Durga Prasad Gupta shot dead in Khanna
AUGUST 6 RSS leader Brig Jagdish Gagneja (retired) shot dead in Jalandhar
Mata Chand Kaur, matriarch of the Namdhari sect, was shot dead 30 kilometres away from Ludhiana. HT PHOTO
2017
JAN 14 Amit Sharma, 35, district president of Shri Hindu Takht, shot dead outside Durga Mata temple in Ludhiana
FEB 25 Dera Sacha Sauda follower, Satpal Sharma, 70, and his son, Ramesh, 40, shot dead in Jagera village on Ludhiana-Malerkotla road
JUNE 15 Christian pastor Sultan Masih shot dead in Ludhiana
OCTOBER 17 RSS leader Ravinder Gosain shot dead in Ludhiana
OCTOBER 30 Hindu Sangharsh Sena district president Vipan Sharma shot dead by two men in Amritsar.