Chandigarh, Aug 26: In the 1980s and 1990s it was said the Punjab Police, with its strong-arm tactics, could even make a monkey admit it was a tiger. But in the past 10 months, the force has been grappling with a situation where it is either unable to solve or is going overboard in investigating major crimes.
Be it the murderous attack on senior RSS leader Brig Jagdish Gagneja (retd) in Jalandhar earlier this month, or the daylight murder of Chand Kaur, the eighty-eight-year-old widow of a former Namdhari sect head, near Ludhiana in April, or the sacrilege of religious books -- the Punjab Police finds itself at sea.
Major crimes in the state have increased in recent months, as Punjab inches closer to crucial assembly elections which are likely to be held next February.
With a new political entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), breathing down the neck of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the opposition Congress, crimes are getting a political colour too.
The police are clueless about the attack on Gagneja and the killing of Chand Kaur and despite claims of "solid leads", the investigations in both cases have led nowhere.
In fact, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) recently expressed its displeasure to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal over the deteriorating law and order situation in Punjab.
"The delegation in unequivocal terms conveyed its displeasure over the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. Whether it was the attack on a shakha in Ludhiana or the daylight murder of Mata Chand Kaur or incidents of kidnapping and snatching, the common man on the streets is feeling insecure," the RSS leadership said in a statement.
Unidentified miscreants had fired shots at a RSS gathering in January.
In May, Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale, 36, a Patiala-based Sikh preacher, was attacked near Ludhiana by 30-40 armed people when he was travelling with his supporters in his SUV. Dhadrianwale's close aide Bhupinder Singh was hit by a bullet and died.
The attack, allegedly carried out by the supporters of a hardline Sikh group leader, was well-planned and executed in filmy style by setting up a 'Chhabeel' (makeshift counter to offer sweetened water) near a bridge. The preacher's car was attacked as the convoy stopped as its occupants were offered the refreshment.
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In another incident in July, a woman accused of desecrating the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, last year and who was out on bail, was shot dead by two persons near Gurdwara Alamgir in Ludhiana district. The police later claimed that two persons were arrested in the case.
In a case relating to the sacrilege of the Quran in Muslim-dominated Malerkotla town near Patiala, the Punjab Police was accused of political vendetta at the behest of the ruling Akali Dal after investigations pointed to the role of Delhi's AAP lawmaker Naresh Yadav in the incident. The Punjab Police arrested him after lengthy rounds of questioning.
The AAP leadership has questioned the police investigation. "This is nothing but political vendetta. But the AAP will not get bogged down by this," AAP leader Sanjay Singh said.
But the most embarrassing situation for the Punjab Police came in October-November last year when, following a series of incidents in which the Guru Granth Sahib was desecrated, police announced the arrest of two brothers for their alleged involvement.
Senior police officers even claimed a "foreign hand" and "foreign funding", linked to Australia and Dubai, in the "conspiracy" for the main incident at Bargari village in Faridkot district.
The arrests were announced with much fanfare in the presence of Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the state Home Minister.
The police was later forced to release the brothers.
The sacrilege incidents had led to protests across Punjab. Two persons were killed in police firing at Behbal Kalan village in Moga district and scores of others were injured in the violence during the protests.
Punjab Congress Legislature Party chief Charanjit Singh Channi has accused the ruling alliance of trying to vitiate the atmosphere in Punjab ahead of the assembly polls.
"These incidents could be compared to the situation in the beginning of militancy during the 1980s. At that time too, it was the Shiromani Akali Dal that was on record for hailing such killings," Channi said, adding that special investigation teams (SITs) set up by the Punjab government to probe crimes were trying to cover up the cases rather than solving them.
The Punjab Police was also caught napping during the attack on the Pathankot airbase in January and on Dinanagar town last July. In both incidents, the terrorists, suspected to be from Pakistan, easily reached their targets to carry out the terror attacks.
Both the incidents took place in the sensitive border districts of Gurdaspur and Pathankot, exposing the chinks in the security cover of the Punjab Police.