March 26, 2023

Punjab: Troubling Times: Government's Loosening Grip on Economy and Law and Order

RL Moudgil

THE government's grip on the state's economy and governance is loosening and there is sudden surge in radicalisation. Law and order is deteriorating with a rising numbers of robberies, murders and snatchings. The government has been unable to control the ongoing gang wars in jails, as evidenced by the recent murders of two gangsters in Goindwal Sahib Jail due to inter-gang rivalry. The situation is exacerbated by the unchecked supply of mobiles, drugs, and weapons in jails, allowing the problem to persist.

On February 23, 2023, the Ajnala Police Station incident in Punjab brought to light the severity of the law and order situation in the state. The leader of the "Waris Punjab De" organisation, Amritpal Singh and his armed supporters attacked the police station while carrying the Holy Book of Sikhs, the "Guru Granth Sahib," in a Palki (Palanquin) as a shield. The attack resulted in injuries to dozens of police officers, including Superintendent of Police who was seriously wounded. The police station remained under siege until the government agreed to release one of their group's accused members. The separatists led by Amritpal Singh were shouting "Khalistan Zindabad" slogans and he consistently walks with dozens of youths carrying sophisticated weapons.

The chief minister, Bhagwant Singh Mann, issued a press statement many days after the incident, stating that Amritpal Singh is receiving financial support from Pakistan. Almost all political parties in Punjab condemned the capture of the police station by armed separatists under the shield of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Akal Takht Jathedar has formed a committee to investigate whether it is religiously acceptable to take the Granth Sahib to a protest site. Additionally, questions have arisen about who provided Amritpal Singh with the expensive Mercedes car, how he gained widespread media publicity in a short period and who supplied him with a large number of private gunmen. The Punjab government, Akal Takht, and Shromani Akali Dal must provide clarification to the public on these issues.

After a long month of inaction, a massive manhunt has been launched in Punjab to arrest self-styled Sikh preacher and Khalistan sympathizer Amritpal Singh. The Punjab Police have declared him a fugitive, and he has been on the run since last Saturday. While Amritpal Singh remains untraceable, questions are being raised about his surprising escape from the police grip and the delayed action, even though the police including central intelligence agencies had information about his alleged links with separatist outfits.

Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal have been named as accused in the Kotkapura firing incident in a challan filed in court in connection with the Kotkapura firing incident, which resulted in the deaths of two protesters during a peaceful sit-in on October 14, 2015 demanding action against those responsible for the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib. However, there is no mention of Sirsa Dera head Ram Rahim Singh and he was successful in having the other cases against him transferred outside of Punjab through the Supreme Court. Following the submission of the challan, the morcha at Kotkapura, which had been demanding action against the individuals identified in the inquiry report, was disbanded.

A "Quomi Insaaf Morcha" is currently taking place in Mohali, seeking the release of Sikh prisoners who have already served their prison sentences on terror-related charges.However, the members of the morcha turned violent a few days ago and attacked the Chandigarh Police with weapons, causing numerous police officers to be injured. Before that, some youth attacked the president of the SGPC, who had arrived to offer support to the morcha. Several organisations belonging to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha have also declared their support for the morcha, including Rajewal, Lakhowal, and several kisan organisations with Naxalite backgrounds. However, the Shromani Akali Dal has a different perspective on this issue. Furthermore, former militants, such as Rajoana, have denied any association with the morcha, describing it as an opportunistic ploy orchestrated by Indian and foreign agencies.

It appears that the central government is attempting to use these incidents for communal polarisation, with an eye on the 2024 parliamentary elections. It is worth noting that the central government did not dispatch the NIA to investigate the Ajnala incident.

These incidents highlight the need for urgent action to address the situation; otherwise, the growing radicalisation may pose a threat to peace in the state.

Despite efforts, drug smuggling from across the international border remains a significant challenge, with the supply chain still intact and bigwigs involved in the business remaining at large. The situation is especially concerning as drug lords and gangsters are now using teenage boys and girls to facilitate their operations.

The rampant corruption in the government has led to the removal of two ministers from their posts, and an MLA has been sent to jail on corruption charges. Despite this, the government's efforts to tackle corruption have been inadequate, and the arrest of former Congress ministers implicated in corruption cases seems to be the only action taken. Illegal mining is still prevalent, and the accused are being sheltered by relatives and friends of ministers and MLAs, further perpetuating the problem.

The economic condition of Punjab is a matter of concern, as the state is facing a severe budget deficit expected to reach Rs 20,000 crores this year. The situation has resulted in a delay in the payment of salaries to government employees. Despite the financial crunch, the ruling party spent a whopping Rs 1000 crore on publicity, which has been widely criticised.

The deteriorating economy, agricultural distress, high unemployment rates, industrial stagnation, caste-based discrimination, corruption, and political instability have contributed to growing frustration and unrest in society, and urgent steps need to be taken to address the underlying issues.

The CPI (M) in Punjab believes that the current situation is extremely concerning and urges the chief minister to organise an all-party meeting as soon as possible. This meeting would try to thoroughly discuss the current situation and achieve an agreement on how to proceed. According to the CPI(M), such a meeting would allow the administration to take proper action to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.