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Jailbreak and Politics Go Together in Punjab

A situation is there to be taken advantage of. If the advantage is not obvious then a spin has to be added to deflect the blame or at least reduce the potential for damage.

Jyoti Kamal | CNN-News18jyotik

Updated:November 30, 2016, 1:19 PM IST
Jailbreak and Politics Go Together in Punjab
Khalistan Liberation Force chief Harminder Singh Mintoo/TV Grab

Chandigarh: A situation is there to be taken advantage of. If the advantage is not obvious then a spin has to be added to deflect the blame or at least reduce the potential for damage.

Six criminals including two terrorists escaping from Punjab’s Nabha jail is such a situation.

Six to 10 criminals masquerading as policemen brought in a handcuffed jail inmate in four cars at the Nabha maximum security prison around 8.30 am on Sunday. With hardly any modern verification systems in place, they got quick access to the inner gate which has access to the radially arranged prisoner barracks at Nabha's circular jail.

The escapees had already gathered at the exit point as if in anticipation of the exact moment of escape, making it clear that it was a well laid plan. Police sources now say it was a plan was three months in the making.

Shots were fired by the incoming criminals who soon had access to the inner gate after overpowering a prison guard. The six waiting inmates ran out, boarded the two cars brought into the jail and, in a hail of gunfire, made their way out. They turned left and encountered a closed railway crossing, made a u-turn, passed in front of the prison gate, fired a few more bullets and were on their way to Haryana and beyond.

There was no challenge from the jail guards. A mounted light machine gun opened fire only after the prisoners had escaped. Punjab's police chief admits to a likely collusion and incompetence of police personnel at the jail who failed to engage despite having superior fire power and training.

Even as the police forces of several states swung into action to nab the escapees, it became a political issue. Eventually, the Delhi Police special cell nabbed Khalistani terrorist Harminder Mintoo, politics in Punjab began to heat up.

Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal was quick to hint at a plot connected with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence. The information behind this link is unknown - presumably "secret", a term that a former director general of intelligence in Punjab claims safely covers dubious or incredible claims made by politicians and sometimes police officers.

In a bid to quickly pacify a questioning media, he suspended the head of the jail system in Punjab, an IPS officer of ADGP rank. The move has not gone down well with the state’s IPS officers who say the Home Minister and the Jail Minister should have surveyed the jails earlier and released funds for modernisation and improving safety systems.

The Congress in Punjab made an equally unfounded connection saying the escape of the terrorists and the criminals could be a conspiracy hatched by the Badals to destabilise Punjab ahead of the elections, and score brownie points by claiming to be the only party and the only leaders who can control and handle the situation in the sensitive border state that saw more than a decade long militancy.

Captain Amarinder Singh has demanded a CBI probe saying the Punjab DGP Police has already admitted to connivance and conspiracy, and that the Akalis would resort to communal politics and polarisation in the face of "imminent defeat".

Expressing fears that there would be more such attempts by Akalis to create a terror-like situation and tighten their grip over the state police, Amarinder has demanded President rule in Punjab.

The lurking fear of militancy revival in the state is a tool that is deployed by almost all stakeholders in Punjab to their advantage. Radical Sikh groups say the struggle and demand for Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs, is as valid today as it was during the height of the militancy.

The SAD-BJP says peace is hard won in the state and they are the best equipped to keep it that way since they straddle the Hindu-Sikh divide despite having a clear leaning towards Sikh religious affairs.

The Congress claims to be the secular front that can make sure militancy does not raise its ugly head ever again. AAP, the latest to join the chorus, says inequality breeds militancy and they are here to bridge the gap.

Initial suggestions by the Punjab Government that the escape was planned by Mintoo, who is a known ISI operative, with help from handlers in Pakistan were turned on their head when arrested mastermind of the operation, Palwinder Panda, claimed the focus was on releasing the hardcore criminals who are his friends. The incidental escape of the two terrorists – Mintoo and Kashmir Singh – was a special favor.

Till such time that the major stakeholders in Punjab's security continue to see criminals, terrorists and militants as pawns to be used to political or departmental advantage, crime and security in the state will continue to remain vulnerable to vested interests and not in the grip of the law enforcement agencies.

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| Edited by: Ashutosh Tripathi
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