Nabha jailbreak mastermind Vicky Gounder, alias Harjinder Singh Bhullar, and two of his accomplices, Prema Lahoriya and Buddha, were killed in an encounter on Friday, January 26. Gounder happened to be Punjab's most wanted gangster. This story has an even uglier side to it.
Bollywood movie Udta Punjab may have provided a sneak peek into the huge drugs problem facing the state, however, not many are aware of the menace created by criminal gangs that are fast growing, faster than perhaps private schools and colleges. At present, there are 57 gangs including the Gounder gang, Jaipal Singh gang, Rocky gang, Kala Dhanaula gang, Sekhon Mudki gang with about 500 gang members, who have spread their tentacles across the state.
What caused the situation?
The answer lies in the state failure at two levels. First, is the government's failure in providing quality education to school and college students, ensuring enabling condition to help reduce dropout rates and second, is the failure in mitigating farm distress. The twin problems have created an economic crisis and law and order issues.
Since most government schools in the state do not have enough teachers the standard of education is poor and so many students dropout. And since agriculture does not seem to be a concern for the government, many farmers choose to commit suicide. It is hardly surprising that Punjab has one of the highest farmer suicide rates in the country today.
Nabha jailbreak mastermind Vicky Gounder.
A by-product of this situation is youth sitting idle with poverty staring at them and their families. Under these circumstances, youths choose to snatch and not struggle - a modern version of a medieval expression used in Punjab "Je hou te lootu, je na hou te kutu (If you have [a good life] you loot others and if you don't have you beat them up)". Punjab has over the centuries seen either invaders looting them or getting looted by the natives.
A state that reaped the benefits of the green revolution has over the recent past seen land holdings dwindle. However, Punjab also has stark inequalities by being home to some of the richest men in the country.
The Gounder story
Vicky Gounder is symbolic of how things went wrong in the state. Gounder was born to high caste but poor parents, who were marginal farmers in Sarawan Bodlan village in Muktsar. He somehow did make it to college.
Gounder was a discus-thrower and could have probably earned a name for himself in sports. When Parkash Singh Badal came to power in 1997 for the first time following terrorism Gounder was barely seven years old and went to a school which had barely one or two teachers.
When Capt Amarinder Singh came to power on promises of a better future, Gounder was 12. Both political parties kept taking turns at the Capitol Hill in Chandigarh, where policies are framed and ordinances passed, but things didn't change on the ground.
While 1980s and early 1990s saw youth dying due to terrorism, the last decade saw youths dying to drugs and the gunfights, either between gangs or with the police.
Real estate money
It all started post-liberalisation, when money started trickling into the state. Both the Congress politicians and the Akalis indirectly focused on this new money through the real estate boom. Real estate brought to both the government and the people instant money. This encouraged the youngsters and students to get into real estate forcing education to take a backseat. Sports still provided hope till drugs destroyed that as well.
A flourishing real estate market created the need for musclemen. The rise of many gyms and real estate market had a parallel growth in the state. The high and mighty need musclemen to both protect money and also to recover it.
Gyms provided a readymade solution producing bouncers and bodybuilders and then there were sportspersons with naturally gifted bodies.
So these gangsters started out as sportspersons or as gym enthusiasts. Vicky Gounder was a discus thrower and part of the Jaipal Singh gang. Jaipal Singh himself was a hammer thrower. Jaipal Singh himself was a hammer thrower. Another of his gang members, Harinder Singh Tinu, a former shot putter was about to migrate to New Zealand when he came in touch with Jaipal and with the world of crimes.
Yet another member of the same gang was Shera Khuban alias Gurshahid Singh, also a hammer thrower. Khuban was killed in a police encounter in 2012.
At the time he was killed, Gounder was Khuban's cook-cum-friend. After Khuban's death, Sukha Kalwan became leader of the Khuban gang. But Vicky Gounder and his men separated and their rivalry began when Sukha was killed. Sukha was killed by Vicky Gounder and his men who fired 60 rounds at him, in the presence of the police.
Such was the terror of Vicky Gounder that even as they danced around Sukha's body, about a dozen policemen looked at them as mute spectators.
Things went so out of control that in December 2017, Gounder in a Facebook post threatened Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh. It is only after this threat that the government woke up to the problem. As Vicky Gounder, Prema Lahoriya and Budha were killed on Friday in a police encounter, congratulatory messages started pouring in from the government.
However, this world of crime is flourishing in the state because the state economy is in shambles due to bad agricultural policies and educational facilities are missing throwing hundreds of youths into a dark future. These idle men either take to drugs or become part of gangs.
All this has turned Punjab into a state that which doesn't produce wheat, rice or cotton on the same scale as gangs and gangsters.