Moosewala’s security downgrade: AAP has a bigger headache at hand now

Sidhu Moosewala
Punjab government has been perceived as being complicit in Sidhu Moosewala's murder because of its ill-thought-out decision to scale down his security without citing credible reasons | Photo - Twitter/@KumariRukshmani

A day after the Bhagwant Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government scaled down his security cover, 28-year-old Punjabi singer and budding Congress politician Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu ‘Moosewala’ was shot dead on Sunday (May 29) evening.

Moosewala was in Jawahar Ke village in Punjab’s Mansa district when unidentified assailants intercepted his SUV near a temple and fired 30 rounds of bullets. The singer-politician reportedly received 10 gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead on arrival by doctors at the Mansa Civil Hospital. Two of Moosewala’s friends, who were travelling with him at the time of the incident, also sustained bullet wounds and were referred to a hospital in Patiala for treatment.

Late Sunday evening, Punjab DGP VK Bhawra told reporters that preliminary investigations revealed the attack on Moosewala was the result of an “inter-gang rivalry” and that the name of Moosewala’ secretary, who is presently in Australia, had figured in the investigations into the murder of Akali Dal member Vikram Singh Middukhera.

Bhawra added that Moosewala’s murder was a “reaction” to the Middukhera murder and that “the Lawrence Bishnoi gang is involved in this (Moosewala’s murder) case… Lucky, a Canada-based member of the gang, has already taken responsibility for the attack.”

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Controversial but popular

A controversial, albeit wildly popular, Punjabi rap singer, Moosewala had joined the Congress party last December and was fielded as its candidate from the Mansa assembly segment. The 28-yearold’s electoral debut had bombed when he lost the polls to AAP’s Vijay Singla by over 60,000 votes. Incidentally, Singla was recently sacked from the Mann cabinet on allegations of accepting a bribe.

Those who knew him claim that the humiliating defeat notwithstanding, Moosewala, who hailed from Mansa’s Moosa village — he would often insist that his stage name ‘Moosewala’ was his tribute to the land of his birth — was determined to carry on his political journey despite many in his family, including his ageing mother, often telling him that he wasn’t cut out for politics.

The incident has triggered a political uproar in Punjab with Opposition parties, Congress, Akali Dal and BJP, united in demanding Mann’s resignation.

Security question

The Opposition has also sought a thorough inquiry not just into Moosewala’s assassination but also the AAP government’s recent decision of drastically reducing the security cover provided to hundreds of prominent politicians, celebrities, religious leaders and bureaucrats in the state, allegedly without a proper audit of threat perception.

On Saturday (May 28), the Mann government had announced its decision to reduce the security cover provided to as many as 424 prominent individuals of the state and publicised the move as “another strike against Punjab’s VIP culture”.

As has now become a standard modus operandi that follows any of Mann’s decisions that are perceived by his government and party as ‘popular’ with the people, the AAP quickly went to town advertising the move across its social media platforms and with various newspapers and TV channels of Punjab.

Also read: Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala shot dead day after security withdrawn

One such advertisement that was circulated by the AAP’s official Twitter handle declared “Punjab mei VIP security par bada action: Akal Takht Jathedar, Dere ke mukhiyon, maujooda ADGP, singer Moosewala samet 424 logon ki suraksha ghatai” (Big action on VIP security in Punjab: security of 424 individuals, including Akal Takht Jathedar, chiefs of Deras, current ADGP and singer Moosewala reduced).

That the advertisement singled out Moosewala as one of those individuals whose security cover was reduced has now been picked up by the Opposition, particularly the Congress party, to suggest that the singer’s murder was a direct consequence of the AAP government’s arbitrary decision.

“Ever since they came to power, the chief minister and his government have unleashed a PR frenzy for image management. On a whim, they decided to reduce the security cover of hundreds of prominent citizens and advertised it as a great achievement. Did they carry out any assessment of the threat perception to these people before withdrawing the security? A young, talented man with a promising career and an entire life ahead of him has lost his life because the AAP wanted some quick publicity. They have blood on their hands and if the chief minister, who also holds charge of the home portfolio, has any shame, he should resign immediately,” Punjab Congress chief and Gidderbaha MLA Amarinder Singh Raja Warring told The Federal.

Moosewala’s fault?

The raging political uproar aside, Moosewala’s murder is also expected to bring greater public focus on the perceptible decline in Punjab’s law and order situation since the AAP’s landslide victory in the March assembly polls. For the AAP, it also doesn’t help that while Mann and his party boss Arvind Kejriwal merely put out customary tweets expressing their condolences to Moosewala’s family and fans, urging people to “stay calm” and asserting that “nobody involved will be spared”, the party’s social media handles went all out to create an impression that the singer-politician was killed because of his own negligence and the possible involvement in the assassination plot of someone close to him.

Speaking to the media, DGP Bhawra claimed that Moosewala originally had four commandos in his security detail of which two had been withdrawn.

“He had not taken the two commandos with him and told them to stay at home… he also had a bulletproof vehicle but chose to go out in another car,” he said.

Soon after Bhawra’s press conference, sundry AAP members began posting similarly worded tweets wondering “why Moosewala did not take the two commandos with him” and asserting that “there is a difference between security being reduced and being withdrawn”.

Partap Singh Bajwa, Leader of Opposition in the Punjab assembly and Congress MLA from Qadian, told The Federal that such reaction from AAP members was “disgusting and is akin to blaming a young man for his own murder when he was gunned down after the AAP government decided to downgrade his security without giving any credible reasons… this is a political murder.”

Bajwa said the AAP was merely trying to “deflect attention” from its “complete failure in maintaining law and order in a state where internal security has always been a matter of grave concern.”

Rise in law & order incidents

The AAP cannot wish away the fact that Moosewala’s murder comes at a time when the border state, with a history of militancy and gang wars, has witnessed recurring incidents of unrest since Mann assumed office.

The past month alone has witnessed at least two major instances of intelligence failure. On May 9, a rocket-propelled grenade was launched at the Punjab Police’s Intelligence headquarters in Mohali. Over half a dozen arrests were subsequently made in the case and Bhawra had claimed that the attack was orchestrated by Pakistani-based Khalistani terrorists.

On April 29, Patiala had witnessed violent clashes between Khalistani and Hindu right wing groups. The incident had scorched the Punjab police establishment as it had failed to take adequate preventive measures despite both sides involved in the clashes aggressively mobilising supporters through provocative social media posts.

Also read: Support AAP to make your kids doctors, engineers; side with others to make them goons: Kejriwal tells Kurukshetra rally

Prior to these incidents, Punjab had also witnessed a spike in gang-violence while the state government and the police establishment appeared clueless. As reported by The Federal on May 3, daylight murders involving alleged gangsters had been reported in several parts of Punjab through March and April.

On March 14, prominent kabaddi player, Sandeep Singh, was shot dead by five unidentified assailants during an ongoing kabaddi match in Mallian village in Jalandhar district. Then, on April 5, another kabaddi player, Dharminder Singh, was shot dead in Patiala. As in Moosewala’s case, the targeted killings of kabaddi players had also been attributed to inter-gang rivalry.

AAP’s dilemma

The AAP government had succeeded in quickly glossing over its failure in maintaining law and order in each of these earlier incidents with the Punjab police making prompt arrests.

The murder of Moosewala may, however, not be easy for Mann to simply brush under the carpet by merely ensuring expeditious arrest of the accused.

As is evident from the outpouring of grief and anger by celebrities, politicians and commoners alike, the budding politician not only enjoyed a massive fan following — he had over 7.8 million followers on Instagram, over 10 million subscribers on YouTube — but the Punjab government has also been perceived as being complicit in his murder because of its ill-thought-out decision to scale down his security without citing credible reasons.

That it lacks experience to handle the complicated security concerns of a border state like Punjab has been a charge that the Opposition had levelled against AAP even before it came to power. In its overzealousness for ending VIP culture without fully understanding the dire consequences of its actions, the AAP may have just proved its detractors right.

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