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Posted at: Aug 28, 2017, 1:39 AM; last updated: Aug 28, 2017, 1:39 AM (IST)

Campuses turning breeding grounds for gangs

Gangsters’ growing influence among university and college students worries police | Bitter rivalries leading to bloodshed

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 27

The recent murder of Manminder Singh, alias Mindi, brother of slain gangster Rupinder Gandhi, in Khanna has underlined a disturbing trend of gangsters entering student politics to find popular support as well as new recruits to the world of crime.

What is believed to be a war of supremacy among students between the Garcha gang and the erstwhile Gandhi group also has the Intelligence wing of the police worried.

“It is a matter of fact that most notorious gang leaders started as student leaders. They establish their names during student elections, thereby turning universities into breeding grounds for criminals. Often they land up in jails over some incidents of violence, where they come in contact with hardened criminals of Haryana or Uttar Pradesh, which have been traditionally affiliated with political parties,” a police Intelligence officer pursuing the matter told The Tribune.

The foundations of bitter life-long rivalries are laid in universities, according to the officer. “And the freshly minted criminals’ clout grows faster via social media, where college students and teenagers become their fans. Many bring sweets and other presents for them at court hearings. If need be, they even offer shelter when gangsters are on the run. Comments like “Att hai bai” (our brother is super cool) by youth can be seen on gangsters’ Facebook page. At times criminals have even posted pictures from police lock-ups to boast of the “VVIP treatment” they may be receiving.

It is only in the past couple of years that the police have been able to dent their image as icons by humiliating them as petty criminals, the officer said.

LONG HISTORY

Police records reveal that intense war between bitter rivals, or friends-turned-foes (as was the case with Mindi and Garcha), was seen in the state when Panjab University student leader Prabhjinder Singh, alias Dimpy Chandbhan, was killed in Chandigarh on July 7, 2006. Chandbhan is referred to in police circles as the “godfather” of several gangsters and an inspiration for offshoots of gangs, many of which are now colluding with criminals from Uttar Pradesh.

Chandbhan, though, had shot to fame after killing another student leader, Makhan Singh of Panjab University, in 1985, when the state was experiencing militancy.

Personal enmities apart, currently it is the influence among student organisations that is fuelling a lot of the violence.

The increasing clout of Mindi’s group in colleges and even schools is cited as the main reason for his murder. The Khanna police say Garcha wanted revenge over a clash at a wedding two years ago, but the underlying tension has been student politics.

Mindi’s elder brother, Rupinder Gandhi, on who even a Punjabi film has been made and a sequel is expected to be released soon, was a student leader who was killed after three days of torture in Khanna in 2003. He had formed the “Gandhi Group”. After his death, the group has been involved in a series of violent clashes with rivals — in court premises as well as colleges. Two years ago, the group shocked observers by launching a “Gandhi School Students Union”.

The rivalries led to the killing of Amritpal Bawa ‘Pency’ (25), former president of the Panjab University Gandhi Group Students Union, on July 30, 2015. In December 2015, armed assailants barged into CMC Hospital, Ludhiana, and carried away a member of the Gandhi gang admitted there.

Among other student-leaders-turned-criminal was Jaswinder Singh Bhullar, alias Rocky, who was once an aide of Dimpy but was later accused of his murder. Acquitted in 2014, he unsuccessfully contested Assembly and parliamentary polls as an Independent.

Lawrence Bishnoi is another gangster who took the student politics path. In 2010-11, he became president of the Students Organisation of Panjab University (SOPU), DAV campus unit, in Chandigarh. He is currently lodged in Kapurthala jail. Shera Khuban and Jaipal Singh are other names who tied up with gangsters during their college days in Chandigarh.

FAN FOLLOWING

Such is the fan following of these gangsters that in Ludhiana city posters of the Gandhi Group Students Union (GGSU) are displayed outside colleges with phone numbers, appealing for membership. Around 300 students of the college are supporters of the group.

“One of the reasons for the popularity is the group’s presence in the college for more than nine years,” says a student. College authorities are unable to control such activity. Already poster wars have led to violent clashes. “The group grows through personal contact. If someone from my village stands for a post, I will ask everyone to support him,” says another student. But are the students comfortable associating with gangsters? “Well, not everyone is bad, there are some ‘changey munde’ (good boys) also,” says a student, who recently passed out of the college, by way of justification.

GOOD-WORK FACADE

The Gandhi group is known to have organised many sports tournaments in villages – and politicians attended these. The GGSU contested elections on the Panjab University campus in 2014, aligning with Panjab University Students Union (PUSU), but lost. In 2015, it tied up with the Students Organisation of India (SOI), an Akali Dal-supported group.

It did not contest the PU elections in 2016, but in alliance with other unions, the GGSU won the elections in DAV College, SD College, Khalsa College and Post-Graduate Government College in Chandigarh.

(Inputs from Jupinderjit Singh and Bhartesh Thakur in Chandigarh; Gurminder Grewal in Khanna; and Gurvinder Singh in Ludhiana)

'Poster Boys' of crime

  • Rupinder Gandhi was a student leader who was killed after three days of torture in Khanna in 2003. He had formed the Gandhi group. Two years ago, the group even launched Gandhi School Students Union
  • Jaswinder Singh Bhullar, alias Rocky, a student-leader-turned-criminal, unsuccessfully contested various elections as an Independent
  • Gandhi’s brother Mindi was killed in Khanna recently. The increasing clout of Mindi's group in colleges and even schools is cited as the reason behind his murder

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