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No clue to string of communal murders in state

CHANDIGARH: Even as Punjab enters a new phase of tension over which way the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda move in terms of faith in a sect or religion, the unease over unsolved cases of targeted killings, apparently to create communal tension in the state, continues.

No clue to string of communal murders in state

The police have promised a reward of Rs 50 lakh and a Sub-Inspector’s post for information about the assailants who carried out targeted killings. Such posters have been pasted across the state. Tribune photo



Jupinderjit Singh

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 3

Even as Punjab enters a new phase of tension over which way the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda move in terms of faith in a sect or religion, the unease over unsolved cases of targeted killings, apparently to create communal tension in the state, continues.

What is more worrying is that the police have not been able to pick any clue in six out of the seven such murders, many of which seem to have been coordinated by the same entity, whether from within or outside India. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was handed some of the cases, too has not been able to make headway.

Over 15 months have passed since some of the murders, which coincided with the disturbance over the series of sacrilege incidents across Punjab. This is the most serious challenge posed to the security agencies since militancy ended in early 1990s.

One of the charges the Congress had levelled against the previous SAD-BJP government was that it was not solving these cases. But in the five months of Congress rule, only one of the seven cases has been cracked, while one more killing — of a Christian priest — has taken place.

Police theories

The police feel that barring the assassination of Mata Chand Kaur of the Namdhari sect, and perhaps the recent murder of pastor Sultan Masih, the other killings have a common thread and were carried out by one group and likely even the same assassins.

An exasperated senior officer involved with the investigations told The Tribune: “Believe us, we have done everything possible to trace the culprits. But the criminals may remain lucky all year, we need to get lucky for just one day.”

Most police officers The Tribune spoke to seem convinced that Sikh terror groups or modules were behind these killings. They even believe that the planning was done by Pakistan’s ISI, which attempted to exploit the tension prevailing at the time between various deras, religious organisations, and Sikhs to cause trouble.

Circumstantial evidence points to a common modus operandi — the same 9mm and 0.32-bore guns were used in most cases; the killers were two in number, and came on a motorcycle and vanished without an electronic trail like the use of mobile phone. The vehicles involved also could not be traced. The police say they have gone through crores of phone calls. The assassins seemed to be professionals.

But there is another view. One officer said: “Some of the killings, especially the assassination of RSS Punjab vice-president RS Gagneja, can have a personal or political angle also. You cannot ignore the fact that these killings and the bomb blast at Maur took place in an election year that saw three parties in the race.” Also, Sikh groups in the past have not hesitated in admitting any act they may have carried out. It would be odd for them to kill someone and not claim the “credit”.

Meanwhile, the mystery continues despite thousands of posters seeking information being put up across the state, and even a reward of Rs 50 lakh and a post of Sub-Inspector in the police being promised for any clue.

Changes in police set-up post killings

  • 7,000 fresh constables and 300 Intelligence staff recruited
  • Intelligence wing and cyber cell set up in Mohali
  • Special Bureau of Investigation set up
  • A task force for drugs
  • Special Operations Cell and Anti-Terror Squad set up
  • Number of DGPs up from six to 13 since June 2015. Similar increase in ADGPs and IGs. Thousands of promotions for lower ranks
  • Series of transfers at the top; finally, several posts back with officers under whose watch the incidents took place

Incidents that targeted peace

April 4, 2016

  • Mata Chand Kaur, 88, killed by two assailants inside Namdhari sect headquarters at Bhaini Sahib, near Ludhiana
  • Significance: She was the matriarch of the prominent sect that worships a living guru, which is opposed by Sikh hardliners
  • Police theory: Suspected in-house job owing to a war of succession
  • Probe agency: CBI and Punjab Police
  • Status: Unsolved; sketches released; no one detained

April 26, 2016

  • Durga Prasad Gupta, head of the labour wing of the Punjab Shiv Sena, shot in Khanna
  • Significance: Third Hindu outfit leader targeted
  • Police theory: Sikh hardliners/Pakistan’s ISI targeted him to foment tension
  • Probe agency: Punjab Police
  • Status: Unsolved

June 13, 2016

  • Gurdev Singh, 31, Dera Sacha Sauda follower shot dead at Burj Jawahar Wala village
  • Significance: The first sacrilege incident took place in the village, caused law and order trouble
  • Police theory: Sikh hardliners against dera culture suspected
  • Probe agency: Punjab Police
  • Status: Solved; radicalised killer gang of Ashok Kumar Vohra, alias Amna Seth (a Hindu convert); Gurpreet Singh Gopi; and Babbar Khalsa activist Jaswant Singh Kala arrested

January 31, 2017

  • Blast at Maur Mandi in Bathinda kills seven
  • Significance: Days before Assembly polls, blast targeted Congress leader Harminder Singh Jassi, a close relative of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim. Political motive of implicating AAP in being close to radical elements possible
  • Probe agency: Punjab Police
  • Status: Unsolved. Only a few false leads came up 

February 25, 2017

  • Two Sirsa dera followers, Satpal and son Ramesh, murdered in Khanna by two assailants
  • Significance: Murders in Naam Charcha Ghar seen as provocation by Sikh hardliners
  • Police theory: Motive of causing trouble between dera followers and Sikhs
  • Probe agency: Punjab Police
  • Status: Unsolved; CCTV grabs of assailants with faces covered released

July 15, 2017

  • Christian priest Peter Masih murdered
  • Significance:First attack on a Christian priest. Warning to Christians on alleged conversions
  • Probe agency: Punjab Police
  • Status: Unsolved. Gangster and some Hindu groups are suspects. 

August 6, 2016

  • Brig RS Gagneja (retd) shot by two motorcycle-borne masked men. Died on September 22
  • Significance: Most active RSS leader to be shot in the state after Rashtriya Sikh Sangat head Rulda Singh (killed in 2009)
  • Police theories: Sikh groups suspected as they were upset at increased RSS activities in rural areas. Could also be a political murder aimed at alienating Hindu votes
  • Probe agencies: CBI and Punjab Police
  • Status: Unsolved. No suspects detained. No clue from mobile use

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