How bloodthirsty Facebook posts from prison, gang wars fuel Punjab's hellhole
The state must break the nexus among goons, drug cartels and political parties.
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The busy Kalka-Shimla national highway - teeming with traffic these days as it draws more tourists to the hills due to the heat wave across the plains - witnessed the murder of a top gangster from Punjab in broad daylight last weekend.
Within hours, several people, including some in jails, claimed "credit" for the murder over social media.
The first claim to the murder of gangster Jaswinder Singh alias Rocky, believed to be close to some political leaders, came within four hours of the incident when the chief of the rebel gang Vicky Gounder posted about it on his Facebook page.
Gounder, currently lodged at Nabha jail, also challenged the Punjab Police to take action against him. The post was followed by a flurry of activity on social media with many claiming credit for the act till the prime suspect, Jaipal, called them a"bundle of lies" and staked claim for the "honour" himself.
There has been a spurt in the formation and activities of such criminal gangs in Punjab over the last decade even though some gangs, associated with those based in Uttar Pradesh, have been operational in the state since the end of militancy.
Those with insight on the issue say that the gangs came into their own during the period when mobile phone towers were being installed in the state. Later they found patronage from politicians and businessmen and earmarked areas for individual operations.
The number of gangs has also increased owing to splits and growing lucrative returns.
What is most worrying is the virtual cult following some of the gangsters have among the youth. Their involvement in election to student organisations is common knowledge and violent clashes on campuses are on the increase. Some of them have "likes" on Facebook pages running into thousands. The pages show them holding sophisticated weapons and boast about their exploits.
To the credit of the police, several of the top gangsters are behind bars but, ironically, they appear to be operating from inside the jail with ease.
There are reports about extortions and "execution orders" issued by them from within the prison premises. These, they claim, are carried out by their associates outside the jail. It is well known that gang leaders and other inmates have easy access to smartphones inside the jail.
The police claims that it frequently seizes mobile phones from jails, but it has not been able to put an end to the use of these devices by the inmates.
The nexus between gangsters and politicians is an open secret. Many of them proudly display their pictures with political leaders who justify the photos saying that "all kind of people" like to take pictures with them.
Soon after Rocky was shot dead, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP Sher Singh Ghubaya went to his house to condole his death.
When mediapersons asked him about his visit, he simply said that he knew Rocky as a voter and that he had no knowledge that he was booked in so many cases.
Two former Congress ministers were in attendance at his cremation as family friends.
Rocky's name had figured in a shoot out at the famous Sukhna lake in Chandigarh in 2006 that killed another Punjab gangster Prabhjinder Singh Dimpy. Rocky had also contested the last Assembly elections as an independent and lost by a narrow margin to the BJP candidate Surjit Kumar Jayani.
Interestingly, the Punjab police had also provided him with two gunmen who were travelling in another vehicle when Rocky was shot dead.
Police officers say that most of the gangsters belong to lower middle class homes and get sucked into the world of crime to wield power and influence.
There is also a clear nexus among the gangsters, the drug mafia and liquor cartels.
An officer closely associated with the investigations involving gangs came up with an interesting observation that many of these goons had quit sports to join the underworld.
The government needs to study what is leading to the proliferation of such gangs and to see, at least, that political patronage is discouraged.