HT Spotlight | The Shiv Senas of Punjab: Right wing takes a wrong turn

  • Pawan Sharma, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: May 08, 2016 09:59 IST
Vociferous protests by Shiv Sainiks are a common sight in Punjab. (HT File Photo)

When terrorism was at its peak in Punjab in the ’80s, the Hindus used to roll out red carpet to accord rousing reception to Shiv Sena leaders. Their presence at family functions was considered a privilege. Decades later, watchful Hindus, weary of the current crop of Shiv Sainiks, avoid mingling with them and consider majority of these self-styled Sena activists as police stooges and government -backed thugs.

That’s the crisis of credibility the mushrooming Shiv Sainiks —part of about 20 active breakaway factions — are grappling with in Punjab.

For many such leaders, the Sena label is a status symbol and a perfect ruse to get the much sought after security cover-— two gun-wielding cops in this case.

And after gaining the state-sponsored social respectability (read gunmen), a sizeable section of Shiv Sainiks run their shops by meddling into property disputes and hammering out compromises among litigants. But crossing swords with Sikh radicals, mostly on social media, and making provocative statements are their favourite tools to raise their stature in the eyes of their handlers—Punjab Police. That’s yet another reason behind the spurt in attacks on these Shiv Sainiks. The tactical support by the intelligence wing with a subtle political brief —to not let these outfits unite — has resulted in a surge in the number of Sena factions in Punjab in the past decade.

Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) Punjab chief Yograj Sharma with his security guards in Pathankot. (Keshav Singh/HT Photo)

Barring three to four major factions — Patiala-based Shiv Sena (Hindustan) headed by Pawan Kumar Gupta, Shiv Sena (Punjab) of Sanjiv Ghanauli (his father Dr Kuldeep Kumar was shot dead by militants in 1992); and Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) of Pathankot-based mild-mannered Yograj Sharma and Hindu Shiv Sena — the remaining outfits are being operating by ‘sainiks’ of doubtful credentials.

“The SAD-BJP government has in the past nine years systematically engineered splits in our main factions by alluring pliable petty elements to form separate outfits. The intelligence wing has been adopting a dirty carrot-and-stick policy to keep us divided. We believe there are over 20 Shiv Senas in Punjab. Police encourage rootless and toothless activists by giving them security and other benefits to form separate factions. In turn, these elements work as police informers. The objective of the government is to keep us divided so that we don’t emerge as a pressure group,” say Yograj Sharma, Pawan Kumar Gupta and Sanjiv Ghanauli in one voice, even as they differ with each other on policy matters.

“We never provide security without reason. The reasons can be debated. We have a history of terrorism. They (Sena activists) take certain positions and come out with statements that lead to conflict,” director general of police (DGP) Suresh Arora told Hindustan Times.

‘Black sheep enjoying police protection’

Gupta, Ghanauli, Sharma and Sandeep Thapar, a Ludhiana-based taksali Hindu Shiv Sena leader, and Rajiv Tandon, chairman of Shiv Sena Punjab, who are perceived to be of “clean image and standing in public”, admit to having “black sheep, police stooges and shady characters enjoying police protection” even in the rank and file of their respective parties.

Shiv Sena (Punjab) chairman Rajiv Tandon moves around in a police vehicle. (Keshav Singh/HT Photo)

That police invests heavily on “shady” sainiks becomes clear from the probe into the February 16 “murderous attack” on Jalandhar-based Shiv Sena (Uttar Bharat) district in-charge Deepak Kamboj, 35. Kamboj has been booked for having orchestrated the attack on himself to gain publicity and more security personnel. The case of Kamboj, who along with his father had 14 cops as security guards, is a grim reminder of the fact that the police are obliging the breakaway Sena factions by giving them security which is actually being misused. It is learnt that over 400 cops have been deployed with Shiv Sena leaders of different outfits. More than dozen leaders have escort vehicles too. Two leaders, who are on militants’ radar, have been provided bullet-proof vehicles.

“The security details of Shiv Sainiks can’t be disclosed,” ADGP (security) BK Bawa said.

Police officers admit that there are cases of sainiks sub-letting the security personnel provided by the government and charging Rs 1,000 per cop per day.

The February 4 attack on Shiv Sena (Punjab) activist Amit Arora by two unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants is also being closely investigated. “We have reasons to doubt the credibility of attack on Amit Arora, even though he is an activist of my party. He has given me three contradictory versions about the attack. We suspect his attack theory,” says Rajiv Tandon, chairman of Shiv Sena Punjab.

However, the killing of Shiv Sena’s labour wing chief Durga Prasad Gupta, by two assailants at Lalhedi Chowk in Khanna on April 23 has raised hackles of the investigators who feel it’s an act aimed at creating communal tension.

Rise of Shiv Sena in Punjab

Before and during terrorism in Punjab, there were two Hindu hardliner outfits—Hindu Shiv Sena (headed by Ludhiana- based Jagdish Tangri) and Hindu Suraksha Samiti headed by Pawan Sharma of Patiala.

Both Tangri and Sharma were vocal in their criticism of Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, who raised the demand of Khalistan. Later, Tangri merged his Hindu Shiv Sena into Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) when the latter was rising as Hindu leader. But one faction of Hindu Shiv Sena, led by Ramakant Jalota (Phagwara), was unhappy with this merger and floated his own faction. Jalota was one of the 40-odd Sena activists who were shot dead by terrorists between Jalandhar and Phagwara along the GT road.

Meanwhile, Hindu Suraksha Samiti of Pawan Sharma became inactive. Soon, Tangri and Bal Thackeray parted ways. This was the beginning of Sena splits. The ageing Tangri then floated Shiv Sena Rashtravadi which could not take off. In between, a Patiala-based youth Pawan Kumar Gupta, inspired by Tangri and Pawan Sharma, began emerging as a promising Hindu leader.

“Since my childhood, leadership qualities of Jagdish Tangri inspired me, while Pawan Sharma’s soldier-like stamina and grit were source of encouragement. I was attracted towards their personalities and their parties,” says Gupta, who remained the flag-bearer of Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) in Punjab as president for many years and consciously copied Thackeray’s style.

According to Yograj Sharma, Gupta was removed as state president over non-performance.

“The Maratha-centric policies of Balasaheb were hurting us. Then all north Indian Shiv Sena units decided to float Shiv Sena (Hindustan) in March 2003,” says Gupta. The core agenda of Shiv Sena (Hindustan) is to ensure compensation and rehabilitation of militancy affected Hindus of Punjab on the lines of 1984 anti-Sikh riots victims.

Politics behind splits

Gupta’s outfit shot into limelight in September 2005 when it announced ‘Dharam Yudh Morcha’ following which then Capt Amarinder Singh’s government prepared Rs 781 crore package (for compensation to Hindu victims of militancy) and sent it to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for approval.

“We fielded 90 candidates in 2007 assembly elections. The Akali Dal promised to fulfil our 11-point charter of demands if we withdraw our candidates in party’s favour. After elections, Akalis gave us a royal ignore and also started engineering splits in our party,” says Gupta.

“The Parkash Singh Badal government put in place this divide-and -derail policy after we opposed the move to install photo of Bhindrawale at a museum at the Golden Temple in 2008. We were arrested after we gave a call for Punjab bandh. After this face off, the government’s sole objective has been to divide Shiv Sena,” say Gupta, Ghanauli and Sharma.

“The Badal government doesn’t want Sena splinter groups to unite. They fear that the united Sena will become a pressure group and can take on the Sikh radicals. The intelligence wing promotes defections and reward defectors with security and other doles. It’s a big fraud,” says Gupta.

Endorsing his views, Ghanauli says: “Over 20 outfits is the result of this divisive policy of the Badal government. Majority of Shiv Sena activists are police moles. Otherwise, why will any government give security to a person who is even unknown in his neighbourhood?”

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