Actor, ex-gangster at centre of farmers’ ire
- The farmers accused the two of taking control of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha stage on Monday evening, and pushing farmers to march onto the Outer Ring Road rather than the route decided with the police.
Punjabi actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu and gangster-turned-activist Lakha Sidhana were the primary targets of farmers’ ire on Wednesday as large sections of protesters blamed the duo for provoking violence during the Republic Day tractor rally and instigating their supporters to break through barricades, clash with police, and storm the Red Fort.
The farmers accused the two of taking control of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha stage on Monday evening, and pushing farmers to march onto the Outer Ring Road rather than the route decided with the police. HT takes a look at the two people at the centre of the storm:
Deep Sidhu, 36
A trained lawyer and an amateur basketball player, Sidhu first completed his graduation from Punjabi University, Patiala, and later a degree in Law. After winning the Kingfisher Model Hunt award, he decided to work in films and started his career with ‘Ramta Jogi’ in 2015, produced by actor Dharmendra. He shot to fame with the 2018 Punjabi movie ‘Jora Das Numbria’, in which he played the lead role of a young gangster.
He first made news during the 2019 general elections by campaigning for Bollywood actor Sunny Deol from the Gurdaspur constituency on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket. Deol won the election but later distanced himself from Sidhu.
Around six months ago, he started commenting on political and social issues of Sikhs and Punjab on Facebook, and at times criticised the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the central government. He, along with Punjabi singers, joined the farmers’ stir at Shambu barrier on the border with Haryana on September 25.
However, singers and other activists disassociated themselves from him after he launched a separate outfit, saying his decision was a conspiracy to torpedo the stir. Sikh intellectual Ajaypal Singh Brar, who was his associate during the Shambu movement, said they distanced themselves from him. “The way he was acting in the stir, we could not go with him, so we parted ways with him,” he added.
Two weeks ago, he was summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with a sedition case against US-based banned pro-Khalistan outfit Sikhs For Justice. He was among several people participating in the two-month-long farmer protests to receive the NIA notice.
On Tuesday, he posted a Facebook video around 2pm in which Sidhu could be seen along with his supporters at the Red Fort. Many of them held the Nishan Sahib, the flag of the Sikhs, and a young man could be seen climbing a flagstaff in the background, with the ‘kesari’ flag in hand. Sidhu posted another video on Facebook at 5.40pm, where he admitted to hoisting the “Nishan Sahib” but said he did nothing wrong.
“When a struggle like this begins, where people’s genuine concerns and rights are ignored, then it makes them very angry and things flare up. In such a case, you cannot blame one person for that display of anger,” he said in the post.
Lakha Sidhana, 42
Gangster-turned-politician and activist, Lakhbir Singh or Lakha Sidhana, has been mired in controversy for years. A kabaddi player when he was young, Sidhana hails from Rampura-Phull of Bathinda district and first made news as an associate of a prominent local politician. He has gone to jail many times, and currently faces at least 10 criminal cases, including that of land grabbing and murder.
He dabbled into politics during the 2012 Punjab assembly elections, contesting on the symbol of the now-defunct People’s Party of Punjab, which was formed by the state’s current Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal after quitting the Shiromani Akali Dal. He was recently accused by SAD leader Parmbans Bunty Romana of assisting the murder of a villager.
In 2019, Sidhana hit the headlines in Punjab when he met jail minister Sukhjinder Randhawa to give suggestions on how to improve prison functioning. The development embarrassed the Captain Amarinder Singh government. Sidhana been camping at the Singhu border since November 26 and has claimed in the past that he had quit crime and joined social activism. But he was never a favourite of farm leaders and was seldom allowed to speak from the dais at Singhu border.
Sidhana has distanced himself from the violence on Republic Day and said he only marched up to the Outer Ring Road in Delhi. “I am pained at the incidents that took place on Tuesday but I am not involved in these. There is no video, photo or other evidence that shows that I instigated people. We had marched towards the Outer Ring Road under our farmer leaders in a peaceful manner. We never had any agenda of going towards the Red Fort,” said Sidhana.
(with agency inputs)
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