In criminally active Punjab, khaki is in a deep slumber. The spate of murderous attacks on high-profile persons and now radical Sikh leader Harnam Singh Dhumma---chief of fundamentalist Sikh seminary Damdami Taksal—openly backing criminals involved in the bid on the life of Sikh preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale clearly show how Punjab Police have lost the plot.
Gangsters are hitting their targets at will and later gloat over their feats on the social media. Fear rules the streets as in most cases, including the sensational killing of Namdhari sect matriarch Chand Kaur last month, police have failed to find any headway.
This police inability or lack of will to crack major murderous attacks, especially of sectarian tinge and having genesis at succession rows or Sikh dera rivalries, threatens to eclipse director general of police (DGP) Suresh Arora’s lofty promise to provide “atmosphere of safety and security” as he completes seven months in office on Wednesday.
Amidst all this, the top police brass religiously follows the policy of deploying cops on security duty of “political agents” of different shades.
Police-politico nexus a dangerous trend: Experts
The police-politico nexus has emboldened the criminals. And the focus of frontline police officers posted on key positions at Chandigarh or in the field remains on maintaining ‘public relations’ instead of policing, say analysts.
A dangerous situation developing in Punjab, they say, adding that rampant shootouts, gang wars, robberies and assassination bids, including that on Dhadrianwale, after a series of attacks on right-wing Hindu activists point towards it.
“Incidents will take place. But criminals should not have a free run. This present drift is dangerous and if not addressed it will have major fallout in days to come,” says a former DGP-rank officer, pleading anonymity. He pointing out that all officers right from the SHO, SSP to DGP have to work in tandem. “Mere instructions don’t yield results,” he adds.
Cops’ favourite excuse: Can’t fight interference
Political interference, is the commonly heard excuse of the investigators in failing to crack cases.This ‘vote bank’ politics is being attributed as prime cause in police failure to catch the killers of Chand Kaur, who was shot dead in a broad daylight in April. Investigators have hit a dead end in the murder case of Khanna Shiv Sena leader. Police have failed to resolve the mystery and nab the prime conspirators behind the series of peace vitiating sacrilege episodes that rocked the state last year. The list of such unsolved cases is endless.
“To solve politically sensitive cases, political backing, not interference, is needed,” says Punjab-based retired DGP- rank officer, adding “there is an urgent need to de-politicise police.
140 gangsters on the run
Behind most high-profile murderous assaults criminals associated with various gangs are believed to be involved. Currently, there are 57 gangs with nearly 420 gun-wielding gangsters active in Punjab.
As per police records, at least 180 identified gangsters are cooling their heels in different jails, while over 100 are out on bail. The remaining 140 are on the run. “We have formed dedicated crack teams to track gangsters,” says DGP Arora.
Most cases against gangsters have ended with an acquittal. In the past decade, 95 gangsters were acquittal in 105 trials. Only 10 were convicted. Between 2010 and March 2016, 55 trials involving gangsters ended with acquittals.
Former top cops admit that many Punjab Police personnel --- from constables to officers --- have become property agents. The criminals are running their network from jails. In past four months, symbolic seizure of 82 mobile phones along with SIM cards from different jails points towards cops conniving with criminals.
Between January 2015 and March 2016, 87 undertrials escaped while on transit from police custody. Last year, a gangster Sukha Kahlwan was shot dead in Phagwara by a rival gang in in police custody. The cops didn’t retaliate.
“That’s why Punjab Police is derided as politicians pawn and arm of the ruling Akali Dal,” say analysts. “These gangs were built and backed by the politicians over the years. Police probe can expose how politicians groomed gangsters. Can police dare to expose this?” asks another retired DGP-rank officer.
Such is political interference, says a retired DGP, that a sub-inspector was summarily dismissed (under Article 311) for his direct involvement in drug peddling. This SI was reinstated within three days after an Akali Dal leader, who is often linked with drug trade, mounted pressure, said an official.
“Punjab Police are not incapable, provided they get a free hand. Can the DGP dare overlook political interests of his political bosses?” asks a retired top cop.
‘Halqa heads have major say in police postings’
The politicisation of police under the Akali Dal-BJP rule is blamed as the major reason for the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. Analysts say the police chain of command has been smashed. The cops are posted in police stations by Akali halqa in-charge. And such appointees follow directions of the halqa in-charge instead of the district police chief.
This imprint of police politicisation and clear political ambitions and affiliations are evident even after the cops hang up their boots.
Almost all retired DGP-rank officers, when contacted by HT, refused to come on record.
“Why should I get into this political controversy over law and order. What am I going to gain,” said an ex-DGP.
“After hanging up my boots, I have stopped looking into such issues. However, let me analyse this law and order situation and I will get back to you in a day or two,” said another high-profile retired DGP who was very active during the days of terrorism.
When asked to comment on the law and order situation in the state, director general of police Suresh Arora said: “You have already spoken to many people…by seeking my view you are doing a formality. I would have appreciated had you talked to me in person in my office over a cup of tea...You seem to have already passed a judgment…I will react after reading what you have written.”
o Jan 18: Two unidentified assailants attack RSS volunteer Naresh Kumar (38) in Ludhiana.
o Feb 4: Unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants open fire at a Shiv Sena leader in Ludhiana.
o April 4: Two bike-borne assailants kill Namdhari sect matriarch Chand Kaur at Bhaini Sahib near Ludhiana.
o April 12: Miscreants abduct Jaskirat, 14, son of Kapurthala industrialist. His body is later found in Tarn Taran district.
o April 23: Two unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants gun down Punjab Shiv Sena leader Durga Prasad Gupta at Khanna.
o May 17: Over 20 heavily armed assailants open fire at Sikh preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale’s cavalcade near Ludhiana. Preacher has a miraculous escape, his follower, however, dies in the attack.
o May 21: Unidentified assailants lynch a law student Manpreet Singh, 24, a son of Punjab police ASI, in Hoshiarpur.
o May 22: Four youth, including son of a cop, open fire at gangster Sukha Barewal, who is facing 30 cases of murder, loot and abduction.
o May 23: Six armed robbers kill guard; take away `60 lakh from a bank-hired car in Moga.
What leaders say
“There is a total collapse of law and order machinery in Punjab. Criminal gangs are thriving and organised crime is getting institutionalised. That’s the worst thing. It is happening with due political patronage to the criminals by the Akalis who have subverted the police system. The SHOs and the area DSPs report and answer to local MLAs and halqa heads, instead of their seniors.” - Capt Amarinder Singh, Punjab Cong chief
“According to the national crime bureau data, Punjab is the fourth safest state in India after Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The NCRB date was available till 2014 and the state had consistently shown improvement in its position since 2007. From 2007 to 2014, the state has come up from 11th slot to fourth in terms of safety. In 2007, the crime rate of Punjab was 135.6 against the national crime rate of 220.5 and in 2014 state had registered 129.6 crime rate against nation crime rate of 220.5” - Sukhbir Singh Badal, Punjab deputy CM