PUNJAB: THE TERROR STRIKES
State jails to get paramilitary cover to break Khalistani-gangster nexus
Punjab has not seen a significant deployment of central forces for more than 20 years now. But they are set to return to duty in the state, responding to intelligence agencies’ warnings about the revival of the Khalistani terror machine. The new arrangements follow a high-level meeting between Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh and Union home minister Rajnath Singh on April 19. Evidence of a nexus between Khalistani extremists and local gangsters was unearthed during the Punjab Police and National Investigation Agency (NIA) investigations of a series of assassinations targeting local Hindu leaders, Dera Sacha Sauda adherents and Sikh preachers not in sync with the mainstream faith.
The NIA’s 2,000 page chargesheet, which names 15 alleged Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) men in the assassination of Ludhiana-based RSS leader Ravinder Gosain last October, also names gangster Dharminder Singh Gugni, who is charged with arranging the firearms used in the killings.
As a start, Punjab DGP Suresh Arora says two companies (roughly 300 personnel) of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) will be stationed at high-security prisons holding Khalistani terrorists and gangsters. These include the jails at Patiala, Ludhiana, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur, Ferozepur, Faridkot, Bathinda, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Nabha.
A senior official in the CM’s office revealed that the MHA has also agreed to have five Border Security Force (BSF) companies (around 700 personnel) in Punjab. “They will be proactively deployed for internal security duties as and where required,” the officer said alluding to intelligence inputs stating that Khalistani elements operating from Pakistan, Germany, Italy, Canada, USA, Australia and the Middle East were intent on destabilising Punjab.
The state government, initially taken by surprise, had red-flagged the gangster-terrorist nexus in the wake of the November 2016 jailbreak in Nabha. Top gangster Vicky Gounder and two Khalistanis, including the erstwhile KLF chief Harminder Singh Mintoo, were sprung in a brazen armed assault on the high-security penitentiary.
Terror-accused inmates and gangland bosses inside high-security prisons are now known to be in regular touch with overseas mentors via mobile phones. Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Punjab’s newly appointed minister for jails, says that “more than 1,500 mobile phones have been recovered from the jail barracks in the past 12 months”. The state police have now roped in telecom providers to deny internet access inside jails. Mobile towers positioned close to high security jails will be closely monitored. “It will make tracking calls a lot simpler,” says a top police officer, adding that “even jail staff will now be careful about their phones being misused”.
WIDENING THE NET CM Amarinder Singh meets paramilitary and Punjab police personnel at the Zirakpur-Panchkula border