From an ice vendor who had to leave Abohar in 1985 as a teenager after being named in the ice-pick stabbing of a neighbour to a millionaire liquor baron-politician, 48-year-old Shiv Lal Doda has had to deal with policemen nearly all his life.
Doda is now on the run again after being named as an accused in the December 11 Bheem Tank murder case.
The gruesome murder of the Dalit man at Doda’s farmhouse has shaken Punjab politically, as the liquor king has been much photographed with the Badals, both father and son, and was at one time known as the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal’s point man in Abohar. At the time of the murder, however, he was in Delhi and chatting with Congress MLA Rana Gurmeet Sodhi at a five-star hotel.
Both parties have been quick to distance themselves from him. His application for bail filed on Tuesday in a court in Fazilka said Doda “is a political figure and has got considerable following in the area.” It also said, “He has respect among the downtrodden”, adding that “he used to help them financially and perform marriages of girls belonging to downtrodden families”
Doda used to sell ice on a wooden platform on the roadside near the bus stand when he and his elder brother, Ved Parkash Doda, now no more, were accused in the stabbing of their neighbour with an ice pick. The younger brother, 19-years-old then, was let off, and he left the city to stay with his maternal aunt in Gurgaon, while his brother was convicted in that case.
Doda returned to Abohar only in the late 1990s and started helping his brother Ved, who had by then started working as a liquor contractor along with his partner, B D Mittal.
But within a decade, Shiv Lal had become a multi-millionaire liquor baron from a small-time liquor contractor, set up a company Gagan Wine, spent crores on charity and was projected as the “Daanveer” of Abohar in 2012 Assembly elections, when he contested as an Independent, after the BJP refused to give him the party nomination.
In a narrow contest, he was snapping at Congress MLA Sunil Jakhar’s heels, wresting 45,825 votes, just 10,000 less than Jakhar’s 55,613 votes. The BJP nominee Laxmi Bhadoo forfeited her security deposit.
He was then made SAD’s ‘halqa-in-charge’ of the constituency, a party post that does not exist on paper and which is officially denied, but which is unofficially bestowed on the most powerful party leader in a constituency after the MLA. Every official in every district knows of halqa-in-charge and the influence that comes with the post.
“Since then he has been halqa-in-charge. (Punjab Deputy CM) Sukhbir ji came for his son’s wedding. He is respected by everybody in the party,” said Ashok Ahuja, his confidante and vice president of Municipal Council, Abohar.
Supporters such as Ahuja swear by him and challenge any local NGO to come up and say Shiv Lal did not help them in cash or kind. Ahead of the 2012 Assembly elections, of his own he bought sewerage cleaning machines worth crores, employed a retired official of the department and 30 workers to clean the sewers of the town, besides donating 35 water tankers to villages in surrounding areas and the town.
His palatial farmhouse in Ramsra, where the crime took place, has hosted several important people. But thee are others who claim to have seen Doda’s “other face”. On January 7, 1999, soon after Shiv Lal returned to Abohar, the most successful liquor contractor of the town at the time, Roop Lal Bansal, was pulled out of his car on Hanuman Road by around 25 people, who assaulted him on the legs with hammers.
Two months before that, Roop Lal had been given a warning by a politically influential man to quit the business and skip town, “I stayed put and I had to face the backlash.”
Truly rattled by that incident, said Roop Lal, “I left Abohar for Rajasthan. It took me over two years to walk after insertion of rods in my legs and numerous surgeries.” Speaking to The Indian Express from Bhiwari in Rajasthan on Wednesday, an FIR was registered against 25 unidentified persons. He never summoned up the courage to pursue the case.
Similarly, another Abohar resident, Satpal Setia, who used to work with Ved Doda, was murdered in broad daylight alongwith his wife on November 20, 2002. His brother, Ghanshyam, told The Indian Express that his brother had refused to work with Shiv Lal after Ved’s death, after the latter’s death earlier that month. “Just 15 days later, my brother was shot dead. A case was registered but nothing came of it though my mother, Saiyyan Devi, fought for justice through several platforms,” said Ghansyam.
The affidavit submitted by Shiv Lal to the Election Commission at the time of his nomination reveals he was convicted for two years in a case registered against him under the Excise Act by a Gurgaon court.
Ahuja, his aide, rubbished all the allegations. Doda was a “clean man,” he said, adding that people were jealous of him due to his popularity.