JALANDHAR: There could be a link between the growing clout of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Punjab and the attack on Brigadier (retd.) Jagdish Gagneja, the sangh’s state vice-president.
Gagneja, who died 47 days after he was attacked by morotcycle-borne masked men, was seen as an architect of RSS expansion plans in the State. It is said that widening of the RSS base was viewed with suspicion by some Sikh radical elements. Gagneja’s death has also fuelled suspicion that with Assembly elections around the corner in the state, the situation could be further exploited with vested interests.
Senior Punjab Congress leader and chief spokesperson Sunil Jakhar said, “Gagneja was killed, as he was expanding the RSS base in rural areas, as it’s presence was being felt.”
The attack on Gagneja is not the only example. This year alone, three RSS-VHP leaders were attacked. On April 23, two unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants gunned down Punjab Shiv Sena leader Durga Prasad Gupta in Khanna.
On February 16, Deepak Kamboj, son of Shiv Sena leader Vinay Jalandhari was injured in an armed attack in Jalandhar, and on January 18, RSS leader Naresh Kumar suffered gunshot injuries in Ludhiana. Ropar-based Gau Sewa Mission head Swami Krishnan also went missing under mysterious circumstances a couple of months back.
Union minister and Punjab BJP chief Vijay Sampla said, “Gagneja served as an important link between the BJP and the RSS”. With the Punjab Police failing to crack the case, it was handed over to the CBI following pressure from alliance partner BJP. The CBI, however, is yet to make a breakthrough.
RSS activities were always viewed with suspicion by a section of Sikhs and their widening influence in the rural belt added to SAD’s insecurities. In the last two years, the number of RSS shakhas in Punjab rose from 600 to 900. Even the Sikhs had started attending the shakhas and weekly mandli meetings.
State intelligence sources said that the expansion of shakhas in Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur districts made the Sikh radical groups see red.
“There is a fear that the Hindu outfits will dilute the identity of the sikhs as they are rapidly gaining prominence in the state especially in rural areas,’’ a radical leader said.
Gagneja had taken over as Punjab RSS vice-president two years ago and was considered a confidant of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. There is simmering discontentment among the RSS cadres but there has been no headway in the case despite the BJP being part of the ruling combine.
Punjab RSS president Brij Bhushan Bedi said, “The Sangh has seen bloodshed in the past, our leaders have been attacked, but it never became a Hindu-Sikh issue in Punjab due to the efforts of our leaders.” He added that if there are intelligence inputs on possible threat to our leaders, it is the government’s duty to provide us with security.
Punjab BJP general secretary (Organisation) Dinesh Kumar sees the attacks as an attempt to disturb peace in the state.
Former Punjab BJP chief Kamal Sharma said that the attack on Gagneja was planned by anti-India forces hell-bent disrupting harmony in the state.
However, former Punjab DGP K K Attari said, “Belligerence of the RSS, Shiv Sena and other Hindu outfits including the latest addition of cow protectors are raising hackles among the common people and other political parties leading to resentment”.
Meanwhile, Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal blamed Pakistan’s ISI to destabilise the state ahead of the 2017 assembly elections.