Special Report | Music, Murder, Manslaughter: Inside the Gangs of Punjab

The recent killing of artist Siddhu Moosewala has brought into the spotlight the extortion, contract killings, drug-peddling, the mining mafia and terrorism that are quite common in Punjab.

Published: 12th June 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th June 2022 08:49 PM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)

O gabru te case jehra Sanjay Dutt te, Jat utte case jehra Sanjay Dutt te (They lodged a case against the strapping young me, the Jat, like they did against Sanjay Dutt).’ Sidhu Moosewalah’s song after police booked him for firing an AK-47.

Music and murder in Punjab’s gangsta rap are much like the relationship between American hip-hop and shootouts in tenements. The murder of Punjabi pop star Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu alias Sidhu Moosewala who was gunned down by eight shooters who intercepted his jeep at Jahawarke village in Punjab last month has brought the focus on the guns and gangsters culture that is integral to the testosterone-charged music industry in the state.

In Goliyan, a music video by Diljit Dosanjh and Honey Singh, the singers are seen firing guns and singing ‘Mitran nu shauk, goliyan chalaun da (friends love firing bullets)’. In August 2021, young politician Vicky Middukhera of the Youth Akali Dal was murdered in a Mohali parking lot where he had arranged a rendezvous with a property dealer. 

Eight shooters pumped more than 20 rounds into his body. Police analysis points to the killers being a part of the gang of Lawrence Bishnoi, reportedly responsible for Moosewala’s murder. Incidentally, investigators of the Middukhera murder finger Shaganpreet, Moosewala’s former manager, for the killing. Shaganpreet who suspected that Middukhera was a gangster’s informant who preyed on singers is presumed to be hiding in Australia.

ALSO READ | Gangster Lawrence Bishnoi mastermind behind Sidhu Moosewala murder: Delhi Police

Ironically, Moosewala’s last song was Ni ehda uthuga jawani ch janaja mithiye, which translates to the funeral will happen in youth. The track, The Last Ride, released in May gathered over 10 million views on YouTube. In the Moosewala case, a member of the Bishnoi Gang based in Canada named Goldy Brar has confirmed that it was they who eliminated the singer in “an act of revenge.” The Punjab Police suspect that Santosh Jadhav, a member of the Arun Gawli gang of Maharashtra, could be involved in Moosewala’s murder. 

Police sources claim that most of these gangs have invested money in Punjab’s music industry and movies. With high stakes involved, they often demand protection money from singers and actors. The Punjabi music industry is the number one in India and hence the most lucrative for extortion. Punjabi music stars are running for cover. Mankirt Aulakh has sought police protection after getting death threats. Aulakh wants his security cover expanded after getting death threats from the Davinder Bambiha gang. In 2018, singer Verma of Gaal Ni Kadni fame escaped an attempt on his life.

In a subsequent Facebook post, Verma said, “The incident that took place was purely a threat of extortion. I have no enmity with anyone.’’

The same year, threatening WhatsApp calls were made to actor-singer Gippy Grewal. Police arrested gangster Dilpreet Singh who also posted on Facebook denying calling Grewal. Police say that singer-turned-AAP politician Balkar Singh Sidhu had received extortion calls and threats. A senior Punjabi celebrity says after Moosewala’s killing, singers and producers are scared, are not releasing a new song and adopting a wait-and-watch policy for things to cool down.

Political scientist Prof Kuldip Singh of Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar says, “Politicians have been using criminals, which has led to the police turning a blind eye to the crimes. It is widely held in Punjab that the gangs only extort money from singers. Rather their reach extends to businesses such as the liquor trade. Ridding the state of this menace needs a long-drawn strategy by the government.’’ In Punjab too, the politician seems to be the villain behind many a crime. 

Interestingly, there is a caste angle to the nightmare. Says Roop Lal Dhir, President of Begampura International Sangeet Sanstha, an association of Punjabi Scheduled Caste singers, “They have threatened me and other SC singers using caste slurs, ordering us to stop rendering the same songs upper-caste singers are singing and trying to come up to their level. They say that we should not sing songs in which we get fame.’’ He also hints at a darker web of rivalry between singers and actors.

The Punjab crime syndicates are so sophisticated that their tentacles spread across the world. The gangsters get support from the separatist Khalistani network and Pakistan. Their weapons are sophisticated and their hit list varied. In March, international kabaddi player Sandeep Singh Sandhu alias Sandeep Ambian was shot dead in his village near Jalandhar while participating in a tournament. The three main conspirators who have been booked by the police are based abroad—two in Canada and one in Malaysia. The hit involved nine criminals, including two shooters; the contract came from a ganglord abroad. 

ALSO READ | Moose Wala killing: Gangsters’ growing tentacles worry Punjab police as state's law and order comes under scanner again

Dharminder Singh, the President of the Kabaddi Club at Daun Kalan village near Patiala, was shot down near Punjabi University in Patiala; his crime was to try and mediate peace between two rival groups. The Punjab Police and other security agencies are disturbed over the tech-savvy social media braggadocio of gangsters who are freely claiming responsibility for their crimes. They make calls through VOIP platforms and mobile apps that generate fake numbers. They use VPNs to mask their identities. Technologically-enabled youngsters are becoming criminals early.

A senior official of the Anti-Gangster Task Force (AGTF) of Punjab Police arrested 18-year-old Jimmy from Sirsa in Haryana. They had been tracking his movements and learned that he was in touch with Canada-based gangster-terrorist Arshdeep Singh alias Arsh Dalla. Dalla was being monitored too, and had sent Jimmy a private message to pick up pistols from an accomplice in Kharar in Punjab; before Jimmy could complete his first criminal assignment, the police swooped down. The thrill of crime seems to supersede wealth in cases like Jimmy whose father is a landlord owning 70 acres in Haryana.

Leading sociologist Dr Rajesh Gill, former Professor, Department of Sociology, Panjab University, says, “In a society with a huge appetite for violence and corruption, gangsters are perceived as heroes by the general public, especially the youth.’’

Another young would-be gangster is 22-year-old Sagar from Sonipat, Haryana, who was ordered by the Jaipal Bhullar Gang to deliver an AK-47 to a criminal but was caught; he is from a middle-class family.

Says an AGTF official, “Youngsters are attracted to the flashy lifestyle, easy money and luxury cars of gangsters who are active on social media platforms. They keep on posting their exploits. We’ve told the parents of young boys who have been arrested that they should create awareness and inform other parents to keep a tab on their children, especially on social media platforms.’’

State government figures note 158 murders in Punjab between January 1 and April 4 this year. The police have broken up 16 gangster modules and nabbed 98 criminals since January 1. Police records note six gang-related murders this year until April 4 and 24 people were arrested. The cops are at the receiving end too. On May 9, a rocket grenade attack was launched against the headquarters of the Intelligence Wing at Mohali; it was attributed to a crime coalition comprising terrorists of Babbar Khalsa International and local gangsters and supported by the ISI.

Gangster Lakhbir Singh alias Landa was the source of the grenade, an AK-47, and gave logistical support; Landa is from Khalistan ground zero Tarn Taran who fled to Canada in 2017 and works closely with Pakistan-based terrorist Harvinder Singh alias Rinda. Rinda is believed to be in Pakistan and is suspected of planning terror acts in Punjab with the help of the ISI, which uses his gang links to carry out the attacks, according to a police officer. He says some Bishnoi gang members also helped Rinda in the attack and interestingly were not all Sikhs. “For the first time, we noticed that no religious ideology was involved and they worked for money,” the officer says.

So how did it all begin?

First terrorism and then Punjab’s politically connected booming drug trade created a generation of gangsters who thought big and wide. Punjab’s criminal gangs started emerging in the 1980s in student politics. Rivalries led to violence like the instance when Makhan Singh, a student leader of Panjab University, was murdered in Chandigarh. Then militancy took over and shadowed student politics; no college elections were held. In the 1990s, student politics was revived, somewhat slightly with five-to-seven student groups becoming active.

In 2006, the then notorious gangster Prabhjinder Singh alias Dimpy was shot dead by miscreants in Chandigarh. Gangster Jaswinder Singh Rocky was arrested.

Says former Punjab Director General of Police KK Attri, “In the last few decades, the number of gangs has increased due to political patronage. The current mess started when a popular singer made and released a music video. Soon, more videos were launched and became popular abroad. The singers started getting invitations to perform abroad. They were asked to sing at wedding functions. All this helped them make a lot of money. Many people connected with sports, particularly kabaddi and wrestling, became drug peddlers and land grabbers due to loss of jobs and an easy way out. This is how the gang culture started and matured into contract killing with gangsters extorting money from Punjabi singers and actors. Because of the loss of control and corruption in state jails, they operate freely even after being jailed.”

In the 1990s, gangster Jaswinder Rocky allegedly formed a working relationship with UP’s gangster-politician Mukhtar Ansari. Their crime spree, including abduction for ransom and murder, ended with Rocky’s return home and subsequent rivalry with his aide Dimpy. Alliances and loyalties shift in the gangworld: Dimpy was murdered in 2006 in Chandigarh and in 2016, Rocky was killed in Parwanoo in Himachal Pradesh.

The pervasive influence of social media has infiltrated the gang world too: gangsters celebrated Rocky’s killing on Facebook.

Bishnoi’s gang has been at war with Bambiha and Bawana gangs for years. Bishnoi’s main rival is Gaurav Patial aka Lucky, who is reportedly operating from Armenia. The first case of attack for ransom reportedly happened in Mohali in April 2018 when gangster Dilpreet Dahan attacked producer-singer Parmish Verma. Subsequently, the Dahan gang asked singer and film producer Gippy Grewal to pony up Rs 10 lakh.

On March 24, singer Mankirt Aulakh requested Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann for protection from gangsters who have threatened him. Punjab’s machismo culture and a bizarre affinity to criminals and dictators have led to the spread of violent lyrics extolling gun culture. Moosewala himself glorified the world’s biggest drug baron El Chapo and Saddam Hussein in his songs. Another fan of druglords is Amrit Maan who with Moosewala recorded Guerrilla War, in which he calls himself a Punjabi Pablo Escobar. Gangsters have achieved cult status in Punjab.

The longest absconding gangster in the history of the state was Jaipal Singh Bhullar, a daring bank robber who roamed free for about a decade before being killed in a police encounter near Kolkata. Says Gurmeet Singh Chauhan, Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP), AGTF of Punjab Police, “The present culture in Punjab is creating a new breed of directionless young men who lack discipline. They lust for fast money and a flamboyant lifestyle with luxury cars, branded clothes and late night parties with drugs and alcohol.” 

The reach of the Gangs of Punjab extends far outside the state. They have formed alliances with gangs from other states to run their vast crime syndicates smoothly. The bigger concern of agencies is that these criminals are in touch with Sikh terror organisations and get their weapons and ammunition from across the border. As in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, a dead Caesar is more powerful than a Caesar alive. Even after a ganglord has been eliminated, their second-in-command takes his position.

Many of Punjab’s top crime bosses operated from foreign shores. 

Gaurav Patial, who heads the Bambiha Gang, is based in Armenia and works closely with another gang of Surrey in Canada. Gurjant Singh, who heads the Jaipal Singh Bhullar Gang, lives in Australia. The Lakhbir Landa Gang is headed by Canada-based gangster Lakhbir Landa like Arshdeep Singh alias  Arsh Dalla, the leader of the Arsh Dalla Gang, and Supreet Singh alias Harry Chattha.

The main business of gangsters is betting, extortion, kidnapping, gun-running, drugs and controlling of kabaddi leagues.

There are eight main gangs operating in Punjab currently. Police have categorised 545 gang members in A, B and C categories; around 300 are in various jails, both in Punjab and other states. About 45 of them are active from prison.

A former Punjab DGP says, “The gangsters become powerful since there is no fear of the law. They know that even after they are caught and sent to jail, they will sit conformably until they are acquitted in court since witnesses will turn hostile or there is a lack of evidence.’’ 

Like in any part of the world, there are gang rivalries in Punjab as well. Every gang wants to prove its supremacy and control territories under their banner. They also operate with the principle that my enemy’s friend is my friend; hence the web of crime has spread to complicated alliance with other gangs in Haryana, Delhi and parts of UP who each other help with hideouts, logistics, boarding and safe travel.

Till 2011-12, the activities of these gangs were limited to their districts, but slowly spread to the other parts of Punjab. Cops say the Punjab gangs hire their shooters from NCR, whose bosses in turn get their killers from Punjab gangs. 

The Bishnoi Gang is one of the most feared gangs in North India. Bishnoi is called the ‘Don’ by his associates who number about 700 of which 150 are from Punjab. His key gang members—Sachin Tapan, Anmol Bishnoi and Goldy Brar—are in the wind; they are involved in the murder of Congress leader Gurlal Pehalwan.

Many cases of murder, extortion, snatching and carjacking are registered against Bishnoi gang members, say police officers. After bloody gang wars reached a standoff, the Bhagwanpuria gang reached an understanding with Bishnoi to not interfere in each other’s criminal affairs; sometimes they even operate jointly since the Bishnoi Gang is active across Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan.

The Bambiha Gang lost its head Davinder Bambiha to a police encounter in September 2016, in Bathinda district; it is presently headed by Armenia-based Lucky. The gang is into extortion and invests money in music companies. It works closely with the Kaushal Chaudhary Gang of Haryana. Around 10 cases are registered against Lucky in Punjab alone.

Davinder Bambiha was a legend in his youth. His real name was Davinder Singh Sidhu, a kabaddi player from a farming family in Moga district. There are startling parallels between his and Bishnoi’s criminal careers. Bambiha was a good student but was also an excellent sharpshooter. His entry into the world of crime happened when he was a college student; his name figured in a murder case in 2010 after a fight broke out over village rivalries.

He was just 21 years old when he escaped from jail and formed his own gang. Half a dozen cases such as murder, snatching and loot were registered against him. The police ended his life when he was just 26. A social media-savvy gangster, he had challenged the Punjab Police to catch him several times. Currently, four of his gang members are lodged in jails while 10 remain at large.

Another major don was 29-year-old Harjinder Singh Bhullar alias Vicky Gounder who was killed by the police in an encounter in 2018 on the Punjab-Rajasthan border. His gang is now run by his former aides Gurpreet Singh Sekhon and Neta Deol. Vicky studied in the Government Arts and Sports College in Jalandhar in 2004, hoping to be an international discus throw player. He got the nickname ‘Gounder’ because he used to spend most of his time on the (athletic) ground.

Vicky’s ticket to the world of crime was Navpreet Singh alias Lovely Baba, a small-time criminal who introduced him to Prema Lahoriya. Lahoriya was a close friend of gangster Sukhvir Singh alias Sukha Kahlwan. In 2010, Kahlwan killed Navpreet Singh and Vicky swore revenge. Lahoriya sided with him. Kahlwan was killed on January 21, 2015, near Singla Resort on the Jalandhar-Ludhiana highway on the outskirts of Phagwara. In 2012, Vicky’s father Mehal Singh disowned him. About 30 members of his gang are still active, according to police sources. 

Dead or alive, the ganglords of Punjab cast long shadows.

Jaipal’s gang is being run in the name of Gurshahid Singh alias Shera Khuban who was killed in an encounter in Bathinda in 2012; Jaipal and his associate Jaspreet Singh had a reward of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 5 lakh respectively on their heads after they killed two police ASIs. The gang is now handled by Gurjant Singh, based in Australia.

Jaipal was the most wanted gangster in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, who had the dubious credit of over 40 cases related to murder, extortion, kidnapping, robbery and smuggling registered against him. But he has been acquitted in many of them. He was killed in an encounter in June 2021.

Jaswinder Singh aka Rocky was killed by Jaipal, his rival. Rocky’s life before he became criminal was stained in blood. The eldest son of Mohinder Singh, his youngest brother was alleged to have murdered their father. Rocky entered politics after over two-decade long life of crime. Later he was arrested for being allegedly involved in the murder of another gangster Prabhjinder Singh. Rocky fled to UP after attacking opponents with a sword and returned to Fazilka a few years later. Police say that he was once a caporegime of Mukhtar Ansari. It was during his time in Burail jail that Rocky came in touch with Jaipal.

They became accomplices but soon fell out after a vicious quarrel. After killing Rocky, Jaipal went underground to escape vengeance.

Of all such ganglords, Jaggu Bhagwanpuria aka Jasdeep Singh is the man to watch. With the sobriquet ‘Supari King’, he operated in Amritsar and Gurdaspur and has five dozen cases of murder, robbery, dacoity and snatching registered against him. He is currently an inmate of Tihar jail. Police suspect many of his associates to have links with Khalistani radicals who get their weapons, drugs and manpower from them. Of about 40 of his gang members, 30 are behind bars even as two key aides, the absconding Money Rayya and Mandeep Toofan, are believed to be his proxies outside. Jasdeep has over 70 FIRs in his name and has been convicted in seven cases.

The paradox is that both killers and victims enjoy cult status in Punjab. Gangster Jaggu is a youth icon for many players and kabaddi lovers. As of 2021, he is lodged in Tihar Jail. His network spreads across Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Himachal and Jammu. Jaggu was a very active kabaddi player in Gurdaspur, Amritsar, and Taran Tarn. According to sources, Jaggu and his kabaddi friends came into contact with local politicians and started to work for them. Jaggu and his gang were notorious for committing dacoity, robberies and extortion. Once they killed the son of a Sarpanch in Dhianpur village on Diwali night; for the first time, he was charged with murder and jailed. In prison, he came in contact with other gangsters such as Sukha Kahlon and Bishnoi.

After his release, Jaggu started threatening businessmen and carried out daring robberies and helped Bishnoi and Sukha’s gangs. Canada-based gangster Lakhbir Singh Landa, who is involved in around 20 criminal cases, including murder and attempted murder, is friends with Rinda. Police say he runs his extortion racket from there. This came to light in July 2021 when Landa’s accomplice Daya Singh alias Preet Sekhon was arrested and he confessed to extorting money from over 20 persons at Landa’s behest. Police sources claimed that Landa developed links with an international drug cartel which was busted by the Canadian police during a year-long operation in April 2021.

About 15 members of his gang are in jail while five are still at large. Unlike the Supari King, fugitive gangster Arsh Dalla is a terrorist based in Canada. He has an active network of five criminals outside doing his bidding. He is involved in the murder of a Dera premi in Bathinda in 2020. A red corner notice has been issued against him and he is wanted in a dozen cases. Chattha too is believed to be operating from abroad with links with radicals based in the US, Canada and the UK. Gang member and main associate Sukhmeet Pal Singh alias Sukhpahiriwal of Gurdaspur had provided weapons and manpower to kill Comrade Balwinder Singh Sandhu in Tarn Taran in 2020. In the 1990s, about 20 militants attacked Sandhu’s home; he fought back for which he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra.  

The families of these gangsters go through their own trauma and rejection. Jarnail Singh, a retired government employee and father of the slain gangster Shera Khuban, was once taken to the police station. Jarnail asked the cops to chain him to the local bus stand, blacken his face and put a board on his neck naming him the father of a gangster. “The families of gangsters are like living corpses,” he laments. They face boycott in their villages. A close relative of Gounder says he was a good athlete but was not selected to the team because he did not get recommendations from influential people like some others; he became a criminal instead.

“Vicky never met his family or gave them any money when he was alive,” rues the relative. Bhupinder Singh, former police Sub Inspector and father of deceased gangster Jaipal Singh Bhullar, thinks that Moosewala’s death was tragic. “Now people are coming to pay their condolences while political leaders exploit the sentiment for votes. Afterwards his parents will be left alone and they will find it difficult to cope with the loss. I have gone through the same,” adds Bhupinder. AIGP Chauhan says the student politics in universities and colleges, which should be producing future political leaders, have become more of a breeding ground for gangsters. 

The music videos of Punjabi songs are chock a bloc with young men with guns in gangsta rap singing lyrics of death. Guns and Poses is a requiem to Punjab’s dying hopes that is being heard loud and clear over its ‘udta’ landscape.  

“The present culture in Punjab is creating a new breed of directionless young men who lack discipline. They lust for fast money and a flamboyant lifestyle with luxury cars, branded clothes and late night parties with drugs and alcohol.”
Gurmeet Singh Chauhan AIGP, Anti Gangster Task Force, Punjab Police

“Now people are coming to pay their condolences while political leaders exploit the sentiment for votes. Afterwards his parents will be left alone and they will find it difficult to cope with the loss. I have gone through the same and know how it hurts.”
Bhupinder Singh Former Sub Inspector, Punjab Police, and father of deceased gangster Jaipal Singh Bhullar

“In the last few decades,the number of gangs has increased due to political patronage. Many people 
connected with sports became drug peddlers and land grabbers. This is how the gang culture started and matured into contract killing with gangsters extorting money from Punjabi singers and actors.”

KK Attri, former DGP, Punjab



Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp