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Panchayat polls: Akalis, Congress lose man each

A day after one person was killed immediately after an election rally in Bhatinda district, two more were gunned down today in a village in Amritsar in an exchange of fire between two groups, pushing the toll in the run up to the May 19 panchayat polls in Punjab to four.

punjab Updated: May 18, 2013 11:58 IST
Harkirat Singh
Harkirat Singh
Hindustan Times

The blaze of political murders in Punjab's zila parishad and block samiti election campaign turned more violent on Friday, claiming a man on either side.

Akali sarpanch Jagir Singh is charged with killing Gurjinder Singh, 45, of a Congress family to avenge the murder of a supporter, Balkar Singh, 20. The murder happened in a shootout at Chak Misri Khan village, 3 kilometres from here, a couple of hours before the campaigning ended.

Balkar Singh was shot in the chest from close range, and three more people, including a woman, also took bullets. Injured Amarjit Kaur, Major Singh and Kulbir Singh also carry sharp-edged-weapon wounds.

The district police have arrested the Akali sarpanch and attributed his crime to "personal rivalry". He had carried Balkar's body to the Lopoke police station in his jeep, while Gurjinder's family had taken his body to its farmhouse.

At the police station, Jagir Singh stated that Master Manjit Singh, a long-time Congress supporter, had killed Balkar.

"I was on way to my farmhouse with supporters when we came under attack, and in the shootout, Gurjinder and Balkar were killed," he said. Four to five swords and an iron rod lay in his jeep alongside the body.

Besides Jagir Singh, his brother, Major Singh; supporters Mangat Singh, Narinder Singh, Gurpreet Singh, and Nirmal Singh, and eight more people are charged with the murder of Gurjinder Singh. The police first seized a 0.12-bore licensed weapon that belongs to Narinder Singh and then arrested Jagir Singh, Major Singh and Mangat Singh.

The others are on the run.

Personal enmity, not poll violence: DIG
The police have taken action, so far, only in the murder of Gurjinder Singh. "The killing of Balkar Singh is under investigation, as there are missing links," said deputy inspector general of police (border range) Paramraj Singh Umranangal. "The murders have nothing to do with the elections. It was personal rivalry," he added.

When the murders happened, no canvassing was on in the village or anywhere nearby, as candidates, both for the block samiti and zila parishad, have been elected unopposed, the DIG has said. "The rivalry between the families of Jagir Singh and Gurjinder Singh goes back to 1966, when a member of Gurjinder's family was killed and the accused had spent many years in jail before being acquitted," the officer added.

The DIG attributed the Chak Misri Khan clash to a dispute over 2-kanal-13-marla panchayat land that "Gurjinder along with the family of Master Manjit Singh wanted to grab".

Jagir Singh has stated that Balkar Singh died in crossfire, but the bullet wound on his chest could only have been made from close range.

DIG's claims challenged
The family of Master Manjit Singh has challenged the "personal enmity" claims of DIG Umranangal and claimed that both murders are political.

A member of the family who didn't wish to be identified said Jagir Singh was close to former Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legislator (Raja Sansi) Veer Singh Lopoke, who was Amritsar district planning board chairman.

"We have no intent of grabbing any land but we do want Jagir or any of his men to become the sarpanch. For the past two days, he has been roaming around with a gun, intimidating us," said a woman of the house.

Many villagers confirmed that in the past one week, Jagir and his supporters had often tried to stop Master Manjit Singh and his family from going to their work at a school. The family avoided him.

Victims' families hold no weapon
The police verified that neither the Manjit Singh family nor the Gurjinder Singh clan possessed licensed weapons. They were silent on the question of reaction to Manjit's requests on telephone for security for his family. The last call was made on Thursday.

The Congress supporters claimed that after killing Gurjinder, Jagir and his henchmen had murdered Balkar to put the blame on Manjit Singh. The family said it didn't have a weapon and the shot that had killed Balkar had been fired from close range.

The member of Balkar's family attributed his injury to a stray bullet, though it did not seem that kind of wound.

Cong leaders keep away
No senior Congress leader visited Chak Misri Khan. Raja Sansi Congress legislator Sukhbinder Singh Sukh Sarkaria was informed of the incident in the morning. District (rural) Congress president Harpartap Singh Ajnala also was absent.

No lessons taken from Patti
After the shooting of a Congress candidate at Patti on May 8 and the murder of a People's Party of Punjab supporter on Thursday in Bathinda district, had the police woken up and made campaigners deposit their weapons, perhaps two lives could have been saved at Chak Misri Khan.

First Published: May 17, 2013 12:30 IST