Lakhbir Singh alias Lakha Sidhana calls himself a social activist, but at one time, he had 26 criminal cases registered against him, for murder, kidnapping and other heinous crimes.
He still has two cases under the Arms Act against him, and three more in keeping with his newly minted image of a reformed gangster crusading for the Punjabi language – for defacing signboards in support of his mother tongue, and one for his latest act of rebellion, doing a Facebook live from a Faridkot jail that went viral.
On Tuesday, he managed to get the media’s attention once again again with a press conference at Chandigarh Press Club, two weeks after his release from Faridkot jail, where he had been sent following his arrest in the defacement case.
He showed no regret for the livestreaming from jail, and alleged that “everything” is available in jails, which he described as “a den” of drugs and addiction. “You just have to pay the right cost”.
With two masters degrees in history and Punjabi, and third in Urdu on its way, Lakha is full of reflections on what went wrong for him, blaming social media and Punjabi songs for glorifying gansterism, and a politician for leading him astray.
“It is the fame, fake fame, which eggs them on. Creating Facebook profiles highlighting their crimes and then seeing how many likes, comments, followers they have gives them a high. They also feel they identify with the songs which glorify violence. I have seen gangsters think that the singer is talking about them,” he says. By his own account, he too had a huge fan following. “I also used to think the same way. When I used to go out in group with weapons, people used to rush to take selfies with me. Youngsters used to say they were my fans. It was a kind of craze, an out-of-this world feeling,” he said.
The 32-year-old said his narrow escape in a 2012 gang war was a sign “from God” that he should work for the betterment of Punjab. “I was shot twice, once in 2013 also. I received injuries in my head, chest, five bullets in my stomach. I thought if I have been given a second chance by God then I should dedicate myself to the society and to Punjab. Nature gives every person an indication that he should correct his way of life. Whether we do it or not depends upon us. It was a turning point in my life,” he said.
That even led to his bid for a seat in the Punjab Assembly in 2012, when he stood on a ticket given to him by the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), set up by the present Finance minister Manpreet Badal after he broke away from the Akali Dal.
“I came into contact with Manpreet as I used to do some social work at the time, getting girls from poor families married or helping people who were being wronged. On one hand, I had a label of gangster on me. On the other hand, I also had the image of a do-gooder in society,” he said.
Lakha said was is now focussed on raising issues concerning Punjab. “The issue of mother tongue, Punjabi, is very close to my heart. I used to read a lot during my stints in jail.”
He says he no longer fears for his life ever since he walked away from the life of violence. “Dimpy Chandbhan, Rocky Fazilka (former gangsters) and many others who led this life were all killed. No one can survive. But I do not think about it. People die in road accidents too. It is all in God’s hands. Now I am sentimental about Punjab,” he said.