Populist Whip Against ‘VIP Culture’ Endangering Punjab Public Figures? Moose Wala Murder Opens Can of Worms

Law and order situation is emerging as the Achilles heel of the Bhagwant Mann-led government in Punjab, with an inexperienced chief minister struggling in wake of sensational incidents such as the broad daylight murder of famous singer Sidhu Moose Wala on Sunday. The fatal attack on the 28-year-old Congress leader took place a day after the state government withdrew his security cover.

“The Centre had its fair share of differences over issues with the Congress government in Punjab, but there was a meeting of minds over handling the law and order situation by Captain Amarinder Singh as CM. He handled the situation well in a sensitive border state. Now, the state is in inexperienced hands and it is showing – this was always a concern with the AAP. Automatic weapons, perhaps an AK rifle, have been used now,” a senior central government functionary told News18, hours after the fatal attack on Moose Wala.

Earlier in May, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the headquarters of the intelligence wing of the Punjab Police. And only last month, a kabaddi player, Dharmendra Singh, was gunned down outside Punjabi University in Patiala.

Opposition parties are saying the AAP-led government was fiddling with the security of individuals in Punjab over political considerations rather than serious threat perception.

The BJP, which is in power at the Centre, is making such killings a major political issue by highlighting that the AAP’s “way of politics and governance” is not suited for a border state. Opposition parties, too, have heavily criticised the AAP for publicising via social media the withdrawal of Moose Wala’s security.

“Everything is not PR. Why tell the world that someone’s security has been withdrawn? This is the problem with AAP’s politics of taking populist mileage,” said a senior Congress leader in Punjab.

Another senior BJP leader said while people heavily voted for the AAP out of anti-incumbency as well as for a change, the law and order issue was now emerging as a major issue with the AAP in power.

The state government’s tiff with the Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh, who had advocated that people should get licensed weapons, is also an indicator of his security cover being pruned. While the government later offered to restore it, Singh said he will take care of his own safety.

The AAP, in fact, termed the pruning of security of over 400 people in Punjab on Saturday as “a move against VIP culture”. “There is a proper process in the Centre and the state for withdrawal of security cover or giving someone security – based on reports from intelligence agencies on threats. The same is not being followed in Punjab,” a senior central intelligence official said.

An AAP MLA argued in a conversation with News18 that Punjab had long been known for gang wars, and all past governments had struggled to control this phenomenon.

“Gangsters have earlier gunned down rivals in broad daylight. There was a daring escape of gangsters from Nabha jail in 2016 when the Congress was in power. Mann government is determined to crack down on gangsters,” the AAP MLA said.

Issuing a clarification, the Punjab Police also said Moose Wala did have two armed police personnel and a bulletproof car at his disposal on Sunday, but he chose not to use them.

The Congress as well as the BJP have, however, demanded Mann’s resignation saying law and order situation was becoming worrisome under his watch and the government was being run on “remote control” from Delhi by Arvind Kejriwal.

Mann needs to get his act together and crack down on criminals and insulate the police force as well as law and order from political and populist agendas, lest he faces stiffer political attacks in the days to come.

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