The alleged nexus between gangsters and politicians appears to have been laid bare in Punjab with politicians belonging to both the ruling Congress and Opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) getting linked to high-profile gangsters.

It all began with the encounter of dreaded gangster and former national level athlete, Vickey Gounder (29), by Punjab Police along with another ‘most wanted’ gangster, Prema Lahoriya, on the Punjab-Rajasthan border near the International Border with Pakistan.

Days after the encounter, the gangster’s family alleged he had once worked for former Congress minister Avtar Henry and took to crime after killing a man with whom Henry’s finance firm had a dispute.

Gounder’s father Mehal Singh and maternal uncle Gurbhej Singh alleged that some other gangsters like Sukha Kahlwan, who was shot dead by friend-tuned-foe Gounder, also worked for Henry.

It was followed by another allegation by an undertrial gangster Ravi Deol aka Ravicharan Singh, who said former SAD minister, Parminder Singh Dhindsa’s officer on special duty (OSD) and cousin Amanbir Singh Cherry pushed him and many others into crime by doling out small favours.

Countering this, former Union minister and secretary general of SAD Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa accused Congress leader Rahul Inder Sidhu (son of former Punjab Chief Minister and Congress leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal) of having relations with gangster Deol.  Bhattal, however, alleged the Dhindsa family had misused their sons and daughters for their own benefit.

In the past also, there have been allegations about the political-gangster nexus in Punjab. Former gangster Lakhbir Singh Sran alias Lakha Sidhana (31) had accused former SAD minister Sikandar Singh Maluka of patronising gangsters like him and using them for political purposes like booth capturing and threatening political opponents.

A former gangster’s take

“All political parties, be it the Akali Dal or the Congress, give patronage to gangsters. A youngster aged 16 to 20 knows nothing, so when a politician gives him a little importance like making him sit in his car, it gives a big high to a youngster. Once he falls for it, politicians use him as they like for various illegal works. Maluka, Avatar Henry, all these have made several gangsters,” Sidhana told The Statesman over the phone.

He said when a gangster’s name starts getting associated with a politician and he becomes a danger or liability for their political prospects, they either conspire to get the gangster killed or implicate him in false cases so that he stays in jail.

“The same was the case with Maluka when I turned against him. He tried to keep me in jail. I was attacked twice and I suffered five and two bullet injuries in separate incidents,” Sidhana said.

How difficult is it to come back?

” It’s like the Bollywood films. If a gangster wants to come back from the world of crime, it’s very dangerous for these politicians as they know we know all their inside secrets,” Sidhana said, adding that society, government and the administration don’t help a gangster lead a normal life.

Why are youngsters taking to crime?

“Our new generation is unemployed. Some of them go abroad after studying up to Class XII. Those who have been left behind either fall prey to drugs or gang-war. An unemployed youth thinks that if he joins a gang and makes a name as a gangster, not only will he get money but also have clout.  So money and fame lure unemployed youngsters towards this world of crime,” Sidhana said.

He said youngsters don’t see a way ahead and are attracted towards gangsters. “Over seven lakh have seen one of my video interviews. I daily get calls from young boys and even girls who are impressed by my history as a gangster. But I tell them not to follow this path.  The day police will kill you (a gangster) in an encounter or put you in jail, the game will be over,” Sidhana said.

It’s a political game, says Ex-DGP

Speaking to The Statesman, former Punjab Director General of Police (prisons) Shashikant said as dacoits in states like Uttar Pradesh flourished under political patronage, it is the same story in Punjab. “Some youths here take to drugs, some to sports or bodybuilding. Those in the second category are picked by politicians to intimidate rivals or voters or for land-grabbing or all types of illegal work,” he said.”Therefore, it’s a political game. While politicians make use of youngsters, the latter get addicted to the world by crime due to the clout they enjoy due to political patronage or easy money they get. But the day a politician fears his political interests will be harmed due to the proximity to a gangster, he doesn’t waste time to disown him,” Shashikant added.

There are still around 20 gangs active in various parts of Punjab.  Eight gangsters have been killed and 26 arrested by Punjab Police since March 2017. At least 17 ‘A category’ and 21 ‘B category’ gangsters were active in the state as of January 2017. Of these, eight in ‘A category’ and nine in ‘B category’ still remain active.