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One year of Punjab govt: Bullets for gangsters give Captain Amarinder a shot in the arm

On target: Law and order was one front on which Cong regime earned plaudits for its action against gangsters and cracking of high-profile cases, besides its deft handling of precarious situation after jailing of Dera Sacha Sauda head.

punjab Updated: Mar 15, 2018 09:28 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab govt,gangsters,Punjab gangsters
A photograph put up on a Facebook page of gangster Vicky Gounder flaunted bullets barely four weeks before he was shot dead in an encounter by cops. (HT Photos)

Such is the impact of gangsterism in Punjab — from the streets to songs to politics — that the Congress government’s move to eliminate top criminals of the state has widely been seen as its marquee achievement in the first year. Add to that the claimed solving of target killings of right-wing leaders, and Captain Amarinder Singh has something to boast about.

At the time when Amarinder took over as chief minister, gangsters were brazen on the street and on social media. Now, police can claim to have gangsters on the run. Data says that from a list of around 700 gangsters, 604 have been arrested or killed. Eight of the ‘most wanted’ have been eliminated, whereas 29 have been arrested or have surrendered. Even a poster boy, Vicky Gounder, and his key aide Prema Lahoria were killed on January 26 in an encounter with Punjab Police just across the border in Rajasthan.

Reality check
  • Promise: No political interference in police functioning
  • Status: Interference on key issue decreased but hardly any change in functioning at police station level; halqa DSP system scrapped, but DSPs again posted on recommendations of MLAs
  • Promise: To withdraw security of so-called VIPs
  • Status: Security withdrawn in initial two months of government, but now even little-known leaders get gunmen and escort vehicles
  • Promise: Fixed duty hours for policemen
  • Status: Idea discussed, but senior officials told government that weekly offs cannot be implemented without adequate manpower first

The government also got praise for the way it handled the fallout of the rape sentencing of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by a court in neighbouring Panchkula (Haryana), even as the sect has a huge following in Punjab. During the tension that lasted around a week, Amarinder not only empowered the state police chief — even handing him the state chopper to monitor key region Malwa — but personally took stock from district police and civil administration.

In the case of target killings, wherein the police claim Pakistan-backed separatist elements are involved, the state government was seen taking a tough stance over alleged involvement of UK national Jagtar Singh Johal, alias Jaggi. In an unwavering stance against “Khalistan sympathisers”, Amarinder did not buckle under diplomatic pressure created by Sikh diaspora that launched a ‘Free Jaggi’ campaign. He even denied UK consular access to Jaggi.

Further, he submitted a list of Canada-based “terrorists” wanted by the state to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his visit to Amritsar in February this year. Before that, he had refused to meet Canada’s defence minister Harjit Sajjan, a Punjab-origin Sikh, over his alleged sympathy for Khalistani separatists. That’s why ahead of Trudeau’s visit, Sajjan and others had to issue a statement distancing themselves from the “movement”.

As for the police brass, Amarinder kept it largely unchanged even at the top, with SAD-BJP regime’s appointee Suresh Arora remaining director general of police (DGP).

Punjab police made Saraj Singh alias Mintu strike this ‘sorry’ pose after his arrest In Jalandhar for murder of a Hindu outfit leader in Amritsar and (right) a file photo of Vicky Gounder. ( HT Photos )

“The basic difference is in the approach of the leadership,” a senior superintendent of police (SSP) posted in Malwa region said on the condition of anonymity. “During SAD-BJP rule, the Badals used to call us even on trivial issues. In the last one year, I have not got a single such call from the chief minister. That’s the sort of free hand this government has provided to us.”

While Arora was not available for comment, another DGP-rank officer said, “We got full cooperation from the government. We strengthened the intelligence wing and successfully broke various nexuses of criminals.”

However, despite much talk of austerity, this government has failed to significantly increase force in police stations by withdrawing cops from VIP duties. Many lower-rung leaders of the Congress can be seen escorted by gunmen. These leaders include some of those given the posts of officer on special duty (OSD) to the CM.

First Published: Mar 15, 2018 09:28 IST