When notorious gangster Jaswinder Singh Rocky, murdered on April 30 this year, contested 2012 Assembly election from Fazilka as an Independent, his brush with politics yielded encouraging results. He lost to sitting minister and BJP stalwart Surjit Kumar Jyani by a narrow margin of 1,600 votes. Later, he worked for Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP Sher Singh Ghubaya in Ferozepore Lok Sabha seat in 2014 elections and organised a well-attended rally at Ghas Mandi in Fazilka then.
After he was killed, Congress leaders, including former MLA from Fazilka Dr Mohinder Singh Rinwa and a Jalalabad-based leader Hans Raj Josan attended his bhog. Both defended their action saying they knew Rocky’s father and had gone there to express condolences to the family. Now his sister Rajbeer Kaur wants to fight elections.
Rocky’s acceptance in the political world and his near victory has been an inspirational tale for other gangsters in Punjab, many of whom appear to have political aspirations and a penchant for hobnobbing with political leaders or activists, meeting them, getting photographed with them, and advertising the association, howsoever flimsy.
The Nabha jailbreak has shone a light on the high tolerance for gangsters in Punjab, their cult following on social media, their easy lives in jail and their nexus with jail officials. And while the whispers of political collusion remain unproved, what is undeniable is that gangsters, chuffed up by Punjabi pop songs that idolise gangsterism, think of themselves as leaders in the making and are not sparing any effort to realise that ambition.
Earlier this year, before his murder, Rocky’s picture with Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was viral on social media. The picture was clicked in Jalalabad at the wedding of Akali leader Ghubaya’s son. Ghubaya was not available for comments despite repeated attempts. His son Balwinder Singh Ghubaya said his father would have the answer to all questions about Rocky.
Last year, gangster Goru Bacha’s photograph appeared on billboards in Ludhiana to thank Sukhbir Badal for appointing Jeevan Sekha as district president of Students’ Organisation of India, a campus wing of the Shiroman Akali Dal, prompting residents of the city to sit on a dharna against the alleged gangster-politician nexus.
The Ludhiana police arrested Sekha in June this year for harbouring Goru, who had shot two youths in two separate incidents, and also for helping him run an extortion racket.
Goru created more ripples when his picture with former jails minister, Hira Singh Gabria of SAD, went viral on social media. Gabria quickly dissociated himself from the gangster.
Kulbir Naruana, another gangster accused in several cases including two of attempt to murder, was photographed with Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia offering him a siropa (a robe of honour). The event was held outside the residence of Congress-turned-SAD leader and Talwandi Sabo MLA Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu in March 2014. Narauna flaunted his picture on social media after that. Sidhu told The Indian Express that Naruana was youth Congress leader when Sidhu switched to SAD from Congress ahead of LS election. “He joined Akali Dal after I joined. Majithia had come to Bathinda that day to canvas for Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal. Since Naruana was taken into SAD, he was offered a siropa by Majithia. It was not that Majithia was honouring Naruana. We did not even know whether he was involved in some crime then or he became a gangster later. I hear he is in Patiala jail now. I have not seen him for a long time. Had he got my patronage then, we would have tried to protect him and he would have been sitting outside,” said Sidhu.
Gurmeet Singh Mann alias Kala Dhanaula, kingpin of his gang and a history-sheeter in the records of Dhanaula Police Station in Barnala district and lodged in Nabha jail, is a councillor, elected last year from his prison cell to the municipal council of Dhanaula.
At his home in Dhanaula hangs his picture with Sukhbir Badal handing him a cheque, dating back to 2009. While his father Gurjant Singh, president of the council, claims his family to be an Akali, the party has disassociated itself from them. “They have nothing to do with us. A Deputy CM can always hand over cheques to a councillor of a local body. Moreover, politicians meet hundreds of people everyday and so many people want to be photographed with them. Otherwise, Akalis do not patronise any gangsters,” said Parambans Singh Romana, a close aide of Sukhbir Badal and president of Youth Akali Dal.
Explaining how gangsters find easy acceptance in society, and in politics, Dr Pramod Kumar, director of Institute
of Communication and Development, said: “When anti-heroes are idolised in society and the Indian cinema, we would certainly see gangsters’ acceptance in the political circles also. The paradigm of our society has shifted from values and integrity to riches and recognition. So, we surely will be faced with this change as far as our leadership is concerned. Gangsters would also shift to politics as it provides them legitimacy and acceptance. Wielding a gun has become a symbol of blatant power.”
A retired police officer says gangsters see politics as the way to get acceptance in society and keep the long arm of the law at bay. “Politics is like the holy Ganges for these criminals, who feel their sins would be washed away once they enter the arena.”