Chandigarh: The sensational Nabha jailbreak, a spate of attacks on high-profile leaders including a fatal one on RSS’s Jagdish Gagneja and gangsters striking at will, put a question mark on Punjab Police’s functioning in 2016.
While the SAD-BJP government insisted there was “peace and harmony”, Opposition parties including Congress were unsparing in their attack against Akalis and claimed a “complete breakdown of law and order” in the poll-bound state.
There were several sacrilege incidents in the state. In one such incident which took place at Muslim-dominated Malerkotla town, miscreants resorted to burning of vehicles and damaged property.
But the major embarrassment for Punjab Police came in November when six prisoners including Khalistan Liberation Front chief Harminder Singh Mintoo and five others escaped from the high-security Nabha jail in Patiala, after a group of armed men stormed the prison and bolted out with the inmates while firing a hail of bullets.
Though Punjab government dismissed two jail officials and suspended the ADGP (prison) besides setting up a special investigation team to nab them, the incident exposed how the state intelligence system was clueless about the brazen attempt by gangsters who had stitched up a plan in collusion with few jail officials to free the prisoners.
Punjab Police with the help of its Delhi and Uttar Pradesh counterparts managed to nab Mintoo and Palwinder Singh Pinda, who allegedly helped in facilitating their escape.
The six prisoners who escaped included terrorists Nabha jail were Harminder Singh Mintoo, Kashmir Singh, and gangsters Amandeep Dhothian, Vicky Gounder, Gurpreet Sekhon and Neeta Deol.
Opposition Congress in no-holds-barred attack alleged connivance of the Parkash Singh Badal government in the jailbreak and said the incident exposed a “complete breakdown of law and order” in the state, triggering fears of revival of terrorism ahead of the Assembly elections.
In the early part of the year, RSS volunteer Naresh Kumar was attacked in Ludhiana. However, nobody was injured.
Then the high-profile murder of 85-year-old Mata Chand Kaur, wife of late chief of the Namdhari sect Satguru Jagjit Singh occurred in April at its international headquarters Bhaini Sahib in Ludhiana.
In the same month, Shiv Sena leader Durga Prasad Gupta was shot dead at Khanna near his office at Lehari road Chowk.
In the following month, the cavalcade of Sikh preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale was attacked by a group of heavily-armed persons near Ludhiana. Though Dhadrianwale had a miraculous escape, his follower Sant Bhupinder Singh Khalsa died in the attack.
Another incident which punctured the Badal regime’s claims of maintaining law and order was when prominent face of RSS in Punjab – Gagneja – was attacked by two unidentified motor-cyclists in Jalandhar in August. He was shot in the abdomen. After battling for life, 65-year-old Gagneja died at a hospital on September 22.
The attack on Gagneja incident raised questions over Badal’s claim of “zero tolerance against any attempt to disturb the hard earned peace and communal harmony”.
Dreaded gangsters operating “freely” and even posting their photos and “feats” on social media, despite being in jail, remained one of the major challenges for the Punjab Police.
As they continue to pose serious threat to law and order, Punjab Police claimed to have started following a four-pronged strategy involving swift action, strengthening jails, seeking tough laws to ensure conviction and recording of evidence against gangsters through video conferencing to deal with hardcore criminals, but without much success.
Punjab’s former DGP Shashi Kant claimed that gangsters had allegedly “flourished” in Punjab under the political as well administrative patronage.
“There are 57 gangs (as per police) in Punjab and only police can tell better as to why they are not being caught,” Shashi Kant told PTI adding there was “lack of political will” in nabbing them.
A top Punjab Police official in May presented data pertaining to gangsters which had pointed out that since 2010, trial of 55 such lawbreakers ended in acquittal after witnesses turned hostile.
Between 1996 and March 2016, of the 105 concluded cases pertaining to gangsters, there were only 10 convictions. From January 2015 till March 2016, as many as 37 gangsters escaped from police custody, he said.
In September, the Punjab Assembly passed a bill which will enable prisoners get parole for reasons such as renovation or repair of house and for agriculture purposes.
Following this, Opposition Congress accused the ruling regime of taking help of “dreaded gangsters” to win upcoming elections.