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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Politics of Shiv Sena factions in Punjab amid old faultlines

At the centre of the current storm is the leader of an outfit calling itself Shiv Sena (Bal Thakeray), Harish Singla, who had given the call for the march against “Khalistanis and banned organisation Sikh for Justice lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannu” in Patiala

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
Updated: April 30, 2022 7:46:17 am
A clash between Shiv Sena (Bal Thakeray) workers and Nihang Sikhs near Kali Mata Mandir in Patiala on Friday. (Express photo by Harmeet Sodhi)

The clash between two groups over an “anti-Khalistan march” in Patiala on Friday has once again brought into focus various existing Shiv Sena factions in Punjab.

At the centre of the current storm is the leader of an outfit calling itself Shiv Sena (Bal Thakeray), Harish Singla, who had given the call for the march against “Khalistanis and banned organisation Sikh for Justice lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannu” in Patiala.

The outfit’s president Yograj Sharma has however claimed that he had expelled Singla from the party on April 20, 2022, after he called for the march and that the SSP Patiala was also informed about it.

“We do not want any trouble with Sikhs and there is no intention to create tension in Punjab. Harish Singla had personal interest behind today’s call and our body has nothing to do with it,” said Sharma, who claimed that his faction was the first of many Sena groups constituted in Punjab.

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Shiv Sena outfits in Punjab

Most of the Hindu right-wing bodies in Punjab have named themselves after the Shiv Sena as it makes easier for these groups to signal what they stand for, given the history of the Sena politics in the state.

Though Sharma claimed that his outfit was formed in 1966, the mushrooming of the Sena factions in the state was witnessed in the run-up to the Operation Blue Star in 1984. A retired Punjab police officer Pandit Kishore Chand had launched the Hindu Shiv Sena. The Hindu Suraksha Samiti floated by Pawan Sharma was also called the Shiv Sena Hindustan.

The Sena factions would often find mention in the speeches of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who would accuse the governments and police for “sheltering” their leaders and “allowing” them to target Sikhs “verbally and physically”. Various Sikh bodies still make such allegations against them.

The splits in the Sena factions used to take place regularly in Punjab since the very beginning, with the state currently having more than 15 such groups including the Shiv Sena Samajwadi, Shiv Sena Rashtarwadi, Shiv Sena Hindu Bhayia, and Shiv Sena Akhand Bharat.

Politics of Sena factions

Most of the Sena groups claim to be the champion of the rights of the Hindu community in the Sikh-dominated Punjab, even as they largely make headlines for their clashes with various Sikh and Dalit bodies.

Some Sena leaders were also killed by militants in the state in 1980s and 1990s. Several Sena factions become active during the Operation Blue Star anniversary, even as they frequently target imprisoned Sikh militants, which often spark tension and lead to clashes with various Sikh bodies.

A Sikh youth Jaspal Singh was killed in firing during such clashes in 2012 over the issue of the death sentence of Sikh prisoner Balwant Singh Rajoana.

Some Sena groups clashed with Dalit bodies in Phagwara in April 2018, in which a Dalit youth was killed. Recently, Sena leaders have started to go after the Muslim community. They have also resorted to cow vigilantism, and have once even threatened the existence of soap industry in the state.

Because of the Sena factions’ perceived association with the Hindu community in Punjab, the Sukhbir Singh Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had, after breaking up with the BJP last year, joined hands with the Shiv Sena Hindustan, despite the latter not having any electoral base.

Yograj Sharma alleged that the Sena factions are being run for vested interests in Punjab. “Many Shiv Sena factions are bringing bad name to it. Sometimes criminal politicians start a faction and then use it for extortion of money and sheltering miscreants. Police security comes as bonus to such leaders. We want Punjab government to not give security to them,” he said.

Dal Khalsa leader Kanwar Pal Singh alleged, “Hindu fringe outfits like Shiv Sena groups and Hindu Suriaka Samiti are in fact state renegades who have been used every then and now to stoke communal fire. Their leaders are all seasoned puppets of central agencies meant to create disturbance and unrest in border states like Punjab.”

Security cover for Sena leaders

The Punjab Police has routinely provided security to various Sena faction leaders in view of the the history of militant attacks on such leaders.

However, there have also been cases when police booked some of them for allegedly planning attack on themselves to get the security cover. In March 2020, Shiv Sena Hindustan labour wing chief Narinder Bhardwaj was arrested for “falsely claiming” an attack on himself to get security. Similarly, in April 2021, the Ludhiana police booked Shiv Sena (Punjab) leader Mahant Kashmir Giri for allegedly orchestrating an attack on himself.

The Indian Express had reported in June 2020 that Shiv Sena Taksali president Sudhir Suri had five hate speech cases against him, even as he had the security cover of 15 Punjab police personnel.

Harish Singla also enjoys protection of the Punjab police.

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