More opposition blood was spilled on Thursday in the campaign for the zila parishad and block samiti seats.
Jaspreet Singh Jassa of the People's Party of Punjab (PPP) was killed and three more supporters of Manpreet Singh Badal were injured critically in indiscriminate firing upon campaigners during a rally at this village, about 60 kilometres from Bathinda. In run-up to the elections due on May 19, it is the second political murder after the shooting of Congress candidate Sukhraj Singh in Tarn Taran district on May 8.
In Thursday's attack, Lakhbir Singh "Lakha Sidhana", PPP's losing candidate in the last assembly elections, is among the injured along with Balbir Singh and Rajwinder Singh Raju. Rajwinder is son of Malkiat Singh, Congress candidate in the zila parishad election from Bhai Rupa zone. Lakha Sidhana and Balbir Singh are under treatment at Adesh Medical Hospital near Bathinda, while Rajwinder was referred to Dayanand Medical College in Ludhiana.
In January 2012, Lakha Sidhana had lost the Vidhan Sabha election to now education minister Sikander Singh Maluka and Congress vice-president Gurpreet Singh Kangar.
Manpreet Singh Badal and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann reached Adesh Hospital to inquire about the injured. "It's a political murder engineered by the nexus of the police and the ruling party," said Manpreet. "The police are hand in glove with the assailants, who can be Akali workers only," said Mann.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and its ruling ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had not issued any statement on the Adampura incident.
Fallout of gang war, say cops
The police attribute the crime to gang rivalry. "Members of the Jagseer Singh Shera gang of Sidhana village of Bathinda district were involved in the attack. Lakha Sidhana and his workers were main targets," said Bathinda senior superintendent of police Ravcharan Singh Brar.
Shera and Lakha Sidhana once were partners in the world of crime and now led rival gangs, said the police. Both are accused in multiple cases of murder, robbery, theft, and keeping illegal weapons. Both have close relations with important political leaders.
"We have identified Lakha's rivals and begun a hunt for them," the SSP said at Adesh Hospital. "The police have gathered 27 cartridges from the spot where maybe 30 shots came off four weapons."
Bathinda deputy commissioner Kamal Kishore Yadav visited the injured in hospital and told the police to tighten security in the district. The administration was open to the idea of a magisterial inquiry, if demanded, he said.
"The ruling party is supporting criminals openly and intimidating the PPP workers," said Manpreet. "Only 10 days ago, the police had raided Lakha's house and seized a licensed weapon registered in his mother's name but it was shown to have been found on Lakha."
In May 2012 as well, Lakha had survived an attempt on his life. State Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa also has condemned Thursday's firing. "I hold the Akali leadership responsible for it," he said.
How it happened
The election rally in favour of Malkiat Singh, joint candidate of the PPP and the Congress, had just ended at Adampura village in the afternoon, when more than 12 armed people came running in and fired upon PPP leader Lakha Sidhana and people around him.
They shot more than 40 rounds, of which four hit Lakha Sidhana in the shoulder, foot and abdomen. Jassa took more than 20 shots, and a few hit Rajwinder Singh. "The gunmen fled, taking advantage of the panic they had created," said an eyewitness.
"Hearing gunshots, I ran for cover," said an old man, who wished not to be quoted, fearing backlash. No one noted the registration numbers of the getaway vehicles.