Two gunmen on a motorcycle killed a man and his son, both local organisers for the Sirsa-headquartered Dera Sacha Sauda, at a congregation centre in Jagera village near Malaudh on Saturday.
“Prime facie, the crime appears to be an offshoot of the ongoing conflict between the dera and Sikh radical elements,” Punjab director general of police (DGP) Suresh Arora told Hindustan Times.
Police said Satpal Kumar (65) and Ramesh (35), residents of neighbouring Ahmadgarh, were shot while they were visiting a canteen being run at the ‘naam charcha ghar’ around 7 pm. Khanna superintendent of police Satnam Singh told a news agency that they died on the spot.
At least four cartridges of .32-bore revolver were recovered from the spot. “We are examining footage from CCTVs installed around the crime scene to trace the accused,” the officer said.
Watch: CCTV footage of gunmen shooting at Dera Sacha Sauda followers in Khanna, Punjab
However, Malaudh station house officer Ravinder Kumar did not subscribe to the view that Sikh radicals were behind the murders. “It may be a case of personal rivalry because the killers targeted only Satpal and his son, and did not hurt the other dera followers at the spot,” said Kumar.
Dera followers and Sikh radicals have been at loggerheads since 2007, when Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh – the leader of the sect – allegedly dressed up as Sikh saint Guru Gobind Singh. Violent clashes followed, and the Akal Takht even issued an edict that Sikhs must boycott the dera head over his blasphemous act.
The shooting of Satpal and Ramesh is the first incident of the kind to occur after the Punjab assembly polls on February 4, for which the dera leadership extended open support to the incumbent alliance of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The ruling party leaders, in turn, promised to arrange congregations for the dera head in Punjab after a gap of almost 10 years.
This “violation” of the Takht edict by the SAD further infuriated Sikh hardliners. On January 31, Congress candidate Harminder Singh Jassi – a relative of the dera head – barely escaped death after alleged radicals set off twin blasts during an election campaign at Maur in Bathinda district. The incident, however, claimed the lives of six others.
Hours before the Khanna shooting, Sikh radicals disrupted a congregation of the dera at Makhu town in Zira sub-division of Ferozepur district. A week before that, also in Makhu, police had registered a case against 25 radicals for a similar disruption.
No control on crime
Several killings linked with religious or religio-political leaders have remained unsolved in Punjab
Jan 31: Six persons killed in twin IED blasts at poll campaign roadshow of Cong candidate Harminder Singh Jassi, a relative of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, at Maur in Bathinda
Aug 6: Punjab RSS vice-president Brig Jagdish Gagneja (retd) shot by two unidentified men in Jalandhar
May 17: Over 20 heavily armed assailants open fire at Sikh preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale’s cavalcade near Ludhiana; his follower killed
Apr 23: Two bike-borne assailants gun down Durga Prasad Gupta, leader of a Punjab Shiv Sena faction, at Khanna
Apr 4: Two bike-borne assailants kill Namdhari sect matriarch Chand Kaur at Bhaini Sahib near Ludhiana