Salwinder Singh, 52, the controversial Gurdaspur superintendent of police (SP) who is being questioned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) after he was abducted and let off by Pakistani terrorists a day before the Pathankot airbase attack, does not have many admirers in the state police.
Known for his “closeness” to Sucha Singh Langah, former Akali minister from Gurdaspur, Salwinder’s other claim to fame, or rather infamy, has been his colourful “extra-curricular activities”, for which he is facing two inquiries.
Salwinder started his career as an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) in 1986-87. In 1991, when he was training at the Punjab Police Academy, Phillaur, for promotion to the post of sub-inspector, other trainees recall that he allegedly got involved in a scandal with a woman employee in the principal’s office. “But no action was taken against him. However, all other trainees had to bear the brunt of his actions,” a fellow trainee said.
“That is the first time he got noticed. Salwinder, however, rose sharply through the ranks, joining the Punjab police service in 2006, thanks to his glib tongue that state politicians fall for,” recalls a senior officer who worked with him.
Close to Langah
Very soon, he became closely associated with Langah. The latter remained a minister twice in the Parkash Singh Badal cabinet, first in 1997-2002 and then in 2007-12. Last year, Langah was convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by a Mohali court in a case of disproportionate assets, but the conviction was later suspended by the Punjab and Haryana high court. The ex-minister has a 100-acre farmhouse in the border belt, not very far from where the SP was travelling the night he was abducted.
Originally from Amritsar, Salwinder was posted as deputy superintendent of police (DSP) in Batala and also served in Jalandhar and Amritsar. He was mostly in the reserve battalions before he was posted in Gurdaspur as SP (headquarters) in February 2014. His proximity to Langah was known to every SSP who remained posted in Gurdaspur since then.
“It is quite common in Punjab for senior officers to hear that their SPs are so-and-so’s ‘men’, so it is not surprising that Langah called up the director general of police (DGP) when Salwinder was transferred, pending inquiry against him, two days before the abduction,” the senior police officer said.
The complaint of sexual harassment against Salwinder began as an anonymous letter sent in mid-2015 to then Gurdaspur senior superintendent of police (SSP), who forwarded it to then Batala SSP Inderbir Singh for a preliminary inquiry. The women mentioned in the complaint corroborated the statements, following which the complaint was forwarded to the DGP for further action. An inquiry was marked to the state-level anti-sexual harassment cell headed by inspector general (IG) Gurpreet Deo.
“The complainants’ statements had been recorded and we recommended that he be immediately transferred for a fair inquiry. The SP was to be called for his statement when this (abduction) happened,” says Deo.
In troubled waters
The complainants, five widows posted as constables in the SSP’s office, were allegedly being harassed by SP (headquarters) Salwinder. They had been inducted into the police on compassionate grounds. “In their statements recorded by the anti-sexual harassment committee, they alleged that Salwinder used to ask them to call him at odd/late hours. He would offer to protect them in case they needed assistance and also offered to help them retain their positions in the SSP’s office. When one of them rebuffed him, he transferred her and then offered to get her back,” said Jatinder Singh Aulakh, police commissioner, Amritsar, who is a member of the committee.
To make matters worse for the SP, a fact-finding inquiry was instituted by the Punjab DGP on January 8 after a Tanda-based woman accused Salwinder of bigamy. Dhanpreet Kaur, Hoshiarpur SSP, is conducting the probe. Tanda resident Karanjit Kaur claimed that she exchanged vows with Salwinder in a Jalandhar gurdwara in 1994 and has a son from the marriage. She alleged that he married her despite being already married.
Salwinder, who has a daughter and a son, is considered to be “very religious.” He visits the dargah at Ajmer Sharif a couple of times every year. “It is my God who has saved me. I have come back from where very few men return alive,” he said during a television interview last week after the abduction.