Much before the militancy gripped Punjab in the early ’80s, the unrest had begun unfolding with sporadic but targeted killings of high-profile Hindu or anti-Khalistan Sikh faces.
And in past one year, the frontier state has again been on the edge, wrestling with one after the other peace-vitiating episodes.
The disorder started with spate of desecrations of Guru Granth Sahib last year. It was followed by targeted killings of right wing leaders this year, besides two terror-strikes within five months by Pakistan sponsored suicidal squads.
Now, Sunday’s sensational high-security Nabha jailbreak and escape of self-styled chief of Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) Harminder Singh Mintoo (now nabbed by Delhi police), along with another militant Kashmir Singh and four gangsters, has revived the fear whether the state is slipping back into the dark days of ’80s.
In past one year, the police failure to maintain the law and order and crack the conspiracies behind the targeted killings and sacrilege cases has eroded public faith in the state police that was once applauded for stamping out terrorism.
What has further fuelled public fear is that killers of Jalandhar-based RSS leader Brig Jagdish Gagneja, Shiv Sena leader Durga Prasad Gupta of Khanna, the key attackers of Sikh preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale are still at large.
Not this, police have failed in solving other high- profile murders and crime cases in past one year, including murder of Chand Kaur, wife of former head of the Ludhiana-based Namdhari sect.
Such repeated incidents of criminals striking at will and now the gangsters storming the Nabha prison and escaping with six inmates without any resistance from the police has raised concerns over police capabilities.
“Police seem to have abdicated its responsibility of hardcore policing. That’s at the core of current situation. This drift in police functioning has to be stopped immediately. Otherwise, pro-Khalistan elements will dare to spread their wings again,” a former Punjab DGP, refusing to be identified, says.
The first indications of drift in the police functioning and policy of the Parkash Singh Badal government became clear when the state was bruised by repeated sacrilege cases and Sikh protests last year.
Since then the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch Badal has been in a firefighting mode pulling out all the stops in a desperate bid to reconnect with “Panthic” segment.
Bringing back to Punjab prisons the Sikh prisoners such as former Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhular and Gurdeep Singh Khera was in line with SAD’s agenda of re-aligning with “Panthic” constituency.
Former militant Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa had emerged as a rallying figure for hardliners to pressurise the Badal government to get the jailed militants released or transferred to Punjab.
In September, the poll-bound government introduced liberal parole regime — repair of house, agriculture and allied purposes or prisoners plea that a family member is critically ill as grounds for parole.
It was this apprehension of pro-Khalistan elements attempting to create communal tension in Punjab that the focus of police between March 2012 and October 2015 was on busting terror modules within Punjab and abroad in tandem with central agencies.
The KLF chief Harminder Singh Mintoo was trapped as part of anti-terror plan in Thailand. The arrest of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) chief Jagtar Singh, alias Tara, one of the assassins of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, was a yet another bright spot in anti-terror operations of Punjab police on foreign soil.
It was the hunt for Tara in Thailand that had led to the arrest of Mintoo and his key aide Gurpreet Singh alias Gopi.
“Mintoo when in Pakistan was repeatedly attempting to kill Punjab-based Hindu leaders. His arrest was a major blow to the Pakistan-based terrorists and their ISI mentors,” Punjab police officers who had tracked Mintoo in Thailand, says.
As Punjab police struggle to cope with the current wave of lawlessness, at stake is the pet promise of chief minister Badal: ‘Shanti aur bhaichara (peace and communal harmony)’.