When popular young singer Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, famous as Sidhu Moose Wala, was gunned down in Punjab’s Mansa district, it was not merely a case of a roaring voice being silenced. This gruesome act was a harbinger of evil days the border state was hurtling towards. Law and order have indeed been a serious concern ever since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) formed its government in the state; visuals of street fights from several places and the rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attack on the Punjab Police Intelligence Headquarters in Mohali on May 9 alerted the nation to the lurking peril. A kabaddi player Sandeep Singh was murdered last month and the police blamed the turf war between gangsters on controlling the game. The police again hinted at gang rivalry being one of the causes of Sidhu Moose Wala’s murder, signally revival of dreadful gangs that operated in Punjab before 2017. The Congress government had succeeded in neutralising them, restoring considerable peace in the state that had suffered heavily in the past.
The 28-year-old Sidhu Moose Wala, who was popular among youths outside Punjab as well – having over one crore subscribers to his channel on Youtube – was often criticised for promoting gun culture in his videos. The self-made youth icon may have developed a premonition of his death as two of his latest songs referred to death and funeral at a young age. He was disheartened after losing the assembly election that he fought on a Congress ticket despite his overwhelming popularity. But melancholy in lyrics certainly doesn’t reflect any death wish. Artistes and writers keep exploring deeper meanings of life and death in a philosophical sense. Who knew that Sidhu Moose Wala was destined to die young, that too in such a barbaric attack by professional criminals. Being the only child of his parents, the tragedy is immeasurable at a personal level. But the dimensions are hugely disconcerting at the political level too, as this assassination would have instilled fear into the people of Punjab. There are genuine reasons for apprehensions of a new turbulent period because the anti-national forces would like to exploit the volatile situation to the hilt.
The political and administrative inexperience of AAP was always seen as a handicap when the people voted out the Congress government. While Bhagwant Mann is a hugely popular and responsible leader, the propaganda about Arvind Kejriwal’s links with Khalistani forces did create suspicions in the mind. The unseemly incidents that followed the change of guard deepened those suspicions. This tragic incident involving the death of a celebrity has caused widespread concerns about Punjab’s future. The Mann government has constituted a task force to demolish criminal gangs and even promised to smash the drug cartel, only a sustained period of social peace will now restore people’s confidence. The Opposition Congress has already described it as a political murder and demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister because the singer was attacked soon after the decision to curtail his security. The Mann government not only withdrew or pruned the security of 424 persons, but they also advertised the decision as part of their famous PR stunts. Ironically, Moose Wala’s security was curtailed despite the Intelligence report pointing to threats he faced from different gangs. A lot of Punjabi singers and artistes are on the hit list of gangsters; calls for ransom have increased in recent months. Reports suggest many singers and actors had given protection money to criminals in the last two months. Though there was no direct complaint made by Moose Wala about fresh threats to him, his father said in the FIR that many gangsters had demanded ransom from his son. The singer had a bulletproof vehicle which he wasn’t using that fateful day.
The AAP government doubtless has an onerous task to prove its governance skills. While Kejriwal’s ambitious expansion plans can be understood, a border state like Punjab cannot be taken lightly. There is more to statecraft than sops and subsidies. Punjab is far more complex than Delhi. Kejriwal needs to wake up as the Delhi model that he marketed so efficiently across the country will now be viewed in the light of governance in Punjab. A peaceful Punjab is going to be the benchmark of judgment for AAP’s governance model. If what Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa alleged – that AAP leaders like Kejriwal and Raghav Chadha were given massive security by Punjab police and threat perception wasn’t the criteria of withdrawal of security from people living in the state, is true, the goodwill of the government is bound to evaporate.